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Mar. 9th, 2013 @ 05:16 pm [sticky post] Adventures in GF Living 3/3-3/9

Our GF Adventures, 3/2-3/9

This has been a very challenging week. Sammi’s health has not improved one bit, although I think Dr. Rupa eventually will help her with her walking.


We have not yet gotten back the results of yet another gluten test. Sammi has been doing a modified restriction diet to look for other food allergies. Thus, her diet has been even more restrictive than the gluten-free diet. No eggs, beef, pork, sugar, citrus fruits, or strawberries, among others. We are trying to get more stool samples for more intense testing, but that has been difficult. She did finally go this week, but she forgot about the need for a sample. Le sigh. It took two bottles of mag citrate, ex-lax, and MiraLax to get that.

We went to the clinic twice this last week. PT gave her some massage treatments, chiro adjusted her neck, and she also received some physical therapy exercises we are to do three times a day. I think I see some change for Sammi, although she doesn’t feel any different. As she does the exercises, though, she seems to get a bit stronger and more confident.


Well, education has been a real kick in the pants this week. Seriously. I am incredibly angry at what we are going through. Home and Hospital gave us the boot, stating that it is a short-term program and that we had already used more of their resources than they usually would allow. I’ve been trying for over a month to get her back into her old school with no success. I attended the tour for the local campus of that school in order to get her in for the lottery for 2013-14, and I also applied for the lottery for her old campus. However, we need to get her a place NOW. I called the superintendent for the school, and his assistant was close to crying with me. She said she would plead our case with him. However, as of this year, he has made the edict that no lottery pulls would be made at this point (I’m not sure what the cutoff date was, but I’ve been trying for a while to get her in). Even though Sammi is not a new student and even though at least one student left her grade in the last two weeks, he refused to budge. You really don’t want to hear any further thoughts on this person by me. Had I at least been given a reasonable explanation, I wouldn’t be so angry. However, I think this person simply is a bureaucrat to the core and gave up that little organ known as a heart a while ago.

(EDIT: I have since received an e-mail from the principal of her old campus, who asserts this was due to legal reasons regarding the conduct of the lottery. In other words, I may be unfair here.)

With our rejection by the school made clear, I tried online education. I spoke to a representative of K-12th several weeks ago just in case. He said we’d be able to enroll. Online at least – and next week I’ll have to call and see if they’re firm in this – all enrollments are now closed. I called Waldorf (a private local school) last week as well, finally desperate. I looked at them as well as Montessori when Ben was little, but I was turned off by their resistance to early reading. I thought it would be good for Sammi at this point, though, since art and music are very important to their curriculum. We will check them out more on a tour this week, but at this point… yes, you guessed it. There’s no room at the inn. I then called the school in which she is enrolled, telling them that I did not feel Sammi was ready to attend each day for a full day and that we had no plan in place yada yada. We can put a medical plan in place to keep the truant office off our backs, but Sammi doesn’t want to go back there with a cane or walker. She also is frustrated by the slow pace and inability to work as quickly as she’d like (chalk one up for Montessori). The school was no help and only offered that we should call our central office for the school district to see if they could direct us to other resources.

So, to sum up: 10 hours worth of driving back and forth to the clinic, hours and hours of phone and e-mail, and very little to show for it. This is not a happy mama.

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Mar. 3rd, 2013 @ 10:33 am Adventures in Gluten Free Living, 2/24-3/3

S’ health

This was the week we traveled to another clinic, run by the P----. This clinic really helped the daughter of a friend, so I was hopeful they would be able to help S, something other doctors haven’t managed. A big part of the clinic is a push towards GF, and the book written by the two owners of the clinic generally makes a lot of sense. We went gluten free (GF) in the second week of January; my son also went dairy free (DF).[ I tried managing all of his allergens, but he has a list of them, including cinnamon and rice. If you’re familiar with GF cooking, you are aware that a lot of the baking recipes have rice. I’ve backed off on his rice allergy and made some goods with rice flour.] However, we have been holding the line on GFDF for these two. S now is DF as well, both at the recommendation of the FODMAPS IBS diet and, now, as part of her partial elimination diet from HealthNOW.

We already have been doing a goodly amount of what’s being recommended so far by the clinic, and we’ve seen no results. If anything, S’ system is worse. With four bottles of magnesium citrate in her as well as 3 bars of Ex-Lax and several doses of MiraLax, she only managed two liquid poops five days ago. Her regular pediatric GI wants her to take MiraLax twice a day, a cube of ExLax, and mag citrate every 3-5 days when she doesn’t poop. I have to get some more mag citrate today to administer to her, and I’m conflicted about it. I don’t like putting all this in her system, which seems to have gotten even more overtaxed. She still is vomiting daily as well. Frankly, I am at my wits’ end.

We went to the clinic two days in a row (yup, five hours of driving round trip each time) last week. S met with an MD, a physical therapist, and a chiropractor/nutritionist. The PT seemed the most useful part of the trip so far. She examined S and found that her C1&C2 vertebrae are out of alignment and that her jaw is out of place. One side is stronger than the other as well, so her system is out of balance. This can cause headaches and lightheadedness and explains why S’ lightheadedness gets worse when standing: when we stand, our spines compress. If they’re out of alignment, whatever is bothering us will be aggravated. So, she received a treatment from the PT and a chiropractic adjustment from Dr. Peterson. They’re hopeful this will get rid of the problems in mobility.

S also had blood taken to see if she has gluten sensitivity. We already know she has a slight sensitivity from Uncle Frank, so I’m uncertain about the worth of spending more money on a test we are certain will be positive. This test is more sensitive than that done by the ped GI, which tests for Celiac disease – as did the biopsy. She also has a stool test ready to be done – but she’s not passing any. This test screens for parasites at the level of DNA. I’m certain she does not have a parasite, so I’m wondering about the worth of this. However, we have to do whatever we can to try and get this girl better. Again: wits’ end.

She also was placed on a modified elimination diet to consider other allergies. Again, we had allergy testing by Uncle Frank, so I’m uncertain about the worth of making the kid jump through more dietary hoops. See above paragraph, though.

We are scheduled to return to the clinic tomorrow and at the end of the week. We will be meeting with the chiro/nutritionist again and, I think, the MD. Cue sigh. She’ll see the PT at the end of the week as well.



Last night I made meatballs; B loves them, and it’s great to have a bunch in the freezer to pop in when we want some GF spaghetti. (B likes Andean Dream; S and I are more flexible.) I made marinara and canned four jars of it; it’s nice to have that in the cupboards, too. Future Alyson will thank me. I tried processing some of the Bob’s Red Mill bread I made last weekend into crumbs, and I used that in the meatballs. They were really yummy. I like quinoa flakes as a starch to put in them, too. Thankfully, I had bought some Pacific beef broth. It’s organic and GF. Last week I discovered that my bouillon, both chicken and beef, had gluten in it! Ugh. Luckily, I have a nonGF friend who was able to relieve me of all the gluten I found in my cupboards when I went through them. I’d have had a harder time just throwing all of it out. Again, read your labels! Gluten lurks in all sorts of places. MSG is one source of it.

I also made the carrot cake cupcakes with orange cinnamon frosting in the March-April edition of _Simply Gluten Free_ magazine. They are pretty healthy as dessert goes – the frosting is made out of sweet potatoes and honey! Half the batter of the cake is carrots, raisins, and nuts. I made them because there is no refined sugar in them. I would like a bit more pep in the frosting, but it was pretty good. The cakes were really good.

GFDF snickerdoodlesI also made snickerdoodles at the beginning of this week. I thought they were a thing of the past, but, lo and behold, the arrowroot starch bag had a recipe for them I decided to try. They’re not as chewy as the wonderful (and gluteny) recipe I found last year, but they are still delicious. They’re very brittle and thus fragile. (I cooked this batch too close together, hence their squareish look.) I found a very good GF chocolate chip cookie recipe, too: http://whippedbaking.com/2013/01/17/best-chewy-chocolate-chip-cookies-gluten-free-dairy-free/

GF cookbooksThere should be a restraining order out on me for bookstores. They are not good for me to walk into. S wanted to see if the new Babymouse was available – which it was, as well as several other books she wanted (thank you for those birthday checks!). Okay, she should have a restraining order, too. I wound up getting a GF magazine (wow, there are several excellent ones out there. Delight is another that is all over the HealthNOW clinic, and it looks very good) and three other cookbooks. There are recipes for cannoli and onion rings! Yes, yes, that’s not healthy. But those are two other foods I thought would be gone for us. I’m looking forward to trying them.

Shout Outs to Restaurants and Raley’s

We haven’t been eating out much since this started; the fact that S vomits about an hour after she eats dinner puts a crimp in going out for dinner. It also can be a challenge to find GF restaurants. We are lucky in that there are two GF friendly establishments in our area: 7 Sisters, which we haven’t tried yet, and the Willow Café, in Folsom, which we tried for lunch last week. All the food (okay, especially the desserts we shared) at Willow was good, and they were able to make our food GF (except for hubby, who is still eating gluten). We looked up GF Chinese, for which we had a desire, and found that Fat’s Bistro in Folsom (and Sacramento) is good about working with GF. We got food from them last Wednesday, and the woman on the phone who took our takeout order was pleasant, patient, and repeatedly checked with the kitchen to see if what we wanted could be prepared GF. It was delicious. The best thing was the walnut shrimp, some of the best I’ve had, GF or not. They “batter” their shrimp in cornstarch. It didn’t have globs of mayo, which I’ve seen in some preparations. Okay, so I also took S out for lunch at PF Chang’s in Roseville. They have an entire GF portion to their menu, and there is a wide variety. (We tried eating GF for Al’s birthday at Cattlemen’s. While the steak was good, it was a less than satisfactory experience for our limitations, and I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone with Celiac’s disease.) S and I both loved our lunch portions (which were cheaper than dinner, too!). Be sure to tell your waiter that you need the dishes prepared GF, too. I didn’t but said something about GF, so he asked, “Are these to be prepared GF? I need to ring them up as such if they are…” Raley’s also gets a shout out for labeling their premade tritip gluten free. It's very good, but make sure you get it on sale – ouch.

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Feb. 21st, 2013 @ 08:21 pm Cooking as Panacea, aka GF chicken wontons, chicken soup, and apple cake
Lately I feel like Walter Bishop (Fringe) in the grocery store:

Grocery trips have doubled in length while I try to find unfamiliar products or read the ingredient lists on the backs of products.

Then there's the cooking. Cooking, cooking, cooking. It's all I seem to be doing lately. All sorts of stuff going on there, including finding new types of comfort food and showing my kids love through cooking things they will like. Transferring all my stress and anxiety into cooking -- yeah, no displacement...

Well, B has been jonesing for some Chinese food. Chinese food without gluten can be hard to find -- no soy sauce for you! Unless you use GF soy sauce, it's a no go, and most restaurants use soy sauce chock full of gluten. Both of my kids love wonton soup, which, of course, has gluten-filled wrappers. We also are avoiding pork (how are we sensitive to pork but not bacon? Eh, I'll just thank the universe for small miracles...). So how to have wonton soup? Yesterday I made bone broth, though, so I already had yummy organic broth to use. All I had to do was skim off the fat.  I did so, then I took the vegetables I had cooked in the broth yesterday, combined them with 1-2 cups of the broth, and liquefied them in my blender (you also could use a food processor). I separated the broth and veggie puree into two large pots, one for each soup I wanted to make.

Wonton Soup:
I added about a teaspoon of white pepper to the broth as well as a small amount of swiss chard (see next soup). I also added about 1/4 cup sherry cooking wine and about 1 tsp salt. I set that to simmer, and then I started on my wontons.

I used www.twincitiesrock.org/gulten-free-wonton-wrappers.html to make GF wrappers. I doubled the recipe so I'd have plenty. I also used Pamela's GF baking mix for the flour. If you decide to make these, here are some suggestions:
I spread parchment paper under the wonton dough, sprinkled more Pamela's, put the dough down and pressed down to make a square. I sprinkled some more Pamela's on top and put another piece of parchment paper. That made it easy to roll the dough out.
When making the wontons, wet the dough along the edges where you are connecting the dough -- this makes it easier to make them stick.

Wonton filling: I got a food processor for my birthday, and it made me happy today as I sped through dicing veggies AND grinding up chicken meat. I used www.cooks.com/rec/view/0,161,147183-232198,00.html for the filling recipe. Oh, and as per above -- I subbed Worcestershire sauce for the soy sauce and Arrowroot sauce for the cornstarch. While it tasted good from the pan, the filling and wrapper together were rather boring. Maybe that's because I feel a cold coming on, but it just tasted bland. If I do this again, I'll add some scallions to the filling. The recipe (URL) calls for baking the wontons. I put several of them in the chicken broth without baking and learned a bit more: make sure the broth is boiling when you add the wontons -- otherwise, they start disentegrating. While this thickens the soup (which is kind of nice), it kills your wontons. Also, make sure you have enough broth to cover your wontons. I also tried putting a baked one in the broth. It held up better, but I still find the wonton boring. It needs some zip. I baked some filled wontons, too, to put in the freezer. What would taste good is a nice chutney on them -- that, or perhaps orange marmalade. I tried some apricot and hibiscus spread I picked up at the grocery on sale, but that was just sweet. It didn't give it any punch, and those wontons need a little punch. The kids were sweet and ate their soup. B decided he'd like to try a dough ball (the wrapper mix made into a ball), so we tossed one in, and he really liked it. I guess it was similar to having chicken and dumplings.

While I was at it, I made a chicken soup I'd like to eat but the kids wouldn't (that whole veggies thing again). Now here's the soup *I* liked!
Alyson's chicken soup
Take chicken bone broth, skim off fat. I divided mine in half so I could make an adult and a kid's chicken soup
Place in stew pot
Take the cooked veggies from bone broth and 2 cups of broth and liquefy in blender or food processor. Add to broths (split between kid and adult broths -- mine won't eat chunks of veggies, but they will eat it hidden in the broth! (Or tomato sauce...)
Cut up chicken from broth, add to pot (assume add to pot from now on). This was about 1/2 cooked chicken.
[If you didn't make your own broth, you could use about 6 cups of broth, 1/2 cooked, chopped chicken, and sauté veggies in garlic and olive oil and process as described.]
Dice 1 onion, bunch of celery (place leaves in, whole on stalk, and fish out at end), and about 4-5 large carrots. I added a bag of chopped mushrooms, too.
I added a pack of chicken tortilla soup mix, GF, which I won't do again because it has corn in it.
Cut off Swiss Chard leaves from spine and finely dice, either by rolling the leaves up into a tube and thinly slicing or with a food processor.
Add about a TSP each of: thyme, marjoram, sage, dill weed, cumin, coriander, cardamom, black pepper, white pepper, turmeric. I think I wound up adding another teaspoon at least of black pepper, but remember to add only a little at a time as you can always add but can't subtract a spice.
Drizzle olive oil over top -- 1-2 TBSP
Add salt to flavor -- I probably added about 3TSP. Also add about 1/4 cup cooking sherry and 1Tbsp garlic powder or a minced clove of fresh. (Yeah, yeah, I'm not supposed to be having garlic, either, but someone gave me a cold and I want flavorful chicken soup)
I wanted some spice/kick as well as an earthy flavor, hence the spices I used.
The soup was good like that, but I decided to get a little more adventurous as well as thrifty. I had a leftover eggplant yesterday, so I decided to make baba ghannouj, which my husband and I like and which we haven't had in a long time. It made a ton of it, so I added 3big TBSP of that to the soup, and yum! Adding sour cream at the end would give a similar robustness. I might add more later...

Then, because the above wasn't enough, I decided to make an apple cake. Granted, I have planned for about a week to do so and bought apples for it. Today was the day. I couldn't find the recipe I originally wanted to try -- boo -- but found what seemed like a good alternate: http://www.healthygreenkitchen.com/italian-apple-cake-grain-and-gluten-free-and-a-giveaway.html . She had had success subbing GF flour (almond meal, in her case), but I'm trying to avoid almonds, so I decided to just use Pamela's again.

This, gentle reader, was a yummy capstone to a day that had its ups and downs. I definitely will make this again. It tasted as good as any cake with gluten, let me tell you. Better than a lot. Did I say "yum"? Scrumpdiliocious. Here's the URL: http://www.healthygreenkitchen.com/italian-apple-cake-grain-and-gluten-free-and-a-giveaway.html
...and here's what I did differently: since I didn't have medium apples, I used 6 small green apples. In addition to using Pamela's, I subbed brown sugar for the white, and I used about 1TBSP of vanilla powder for the vanilla extract. I also used Silk instead of milk. It's moist, tender, not at all grainy.  The poster of the original said she may have undercooked it; I think she did, since this took 65-70 minutes to set in the oven.
Italian apple cakeItalian apple cake inside

Since my phone is being a stinker about transferring pics to the computer, those are all the pics I have for you today. If I could only include two, though, those are the ones!

Silly me also decided to make Chebe rolls -- at first, to go with soup for dinner. Then I decided the kids likely would prefer burgers with them -- we've been missing burgers a lot, and the Rudi's GF burger buns are not very good. The Chebe ones were very good and the kids were quite happy with a decent tasting burger on a bun! I was going to use some Merlot sauce in making the burgers, but I read the ingredient list and found -- you guessed it -- wheat. So I added some garlic powder, Worcestershire sauce, and dried minced onion.
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Feb. 20th, 2013 @ 09:17 pm Bone Broths and Zucchini Pumpkin Bread
In addition to all my snapping, crackling, and popping, I made some GF zucchini pumpkin bread. S has been constipated for a while now (we did her first Sitz Marker test x-ray today), and I decided to follow my friend Maria's advice and stick some pumpking in a baked good. Pumpkin is great for fiber. S also requested some zucchini bread, so I decided to combine the two, and I found a recipe that did just that: http://www.katieheddleston.com/2012/09/06/gluten-free-zucchini-pumpkin-bread. I should've checked what was in the Bob's Red Mill GF all-purpose baking flour I had purchased and which she recommends; had I done so, I would have used Pamela's baking mix instead. Most baking mixes use rice flour, which produces a baked good often similar to regular baked goods (although sometimes sandy in texture, depending upon the mix and upon the recipe. Pamela's is the best on the market for this, and her waffle recipe produces the best waffles I've ever made -- with or without gluten!). This particular Bob's mix uses mostly garfava flour, which is made from garbanzo beans/chickpeas. This flour is good for some products, but it tends to be heavy in texture and flavor. Batters made with it often smell and taste like farts, but it does improve with baking. It needs ingredients that can combat that strong flavour -- unless you like a heavy bean flavor!  The buckwheat flour also gives it a heavy texture and flavor and perhaps helps to bring down the garfava flavor. Following this recipe as Heddleston formulated it, definitely use the chocolate chips! My first bite did not impress me, but the flavor grew on me and I soon wanted more. The chocolate, though, is an essential.  Mine is much darker in color than Heddleston's. It's good, but it is heavy, and I can't taste either the zucchini OR the pumpkin. It's nice and moist, though, and earthy in flavor.
GF zucchini pumpkin bread

I also made some broth today. My friend Lisa sent me a link to http://s3.amazonaws.com/glutenfreemagazine/gf-magazine-issue-4.pdf, which discusses bone broths as healthful for the digestive system; she thought it might help S. I threw all her ingredients in the slow cooker and just let them simmer for several hours. Now I've pulled out the chicken and the veggies (I added zucchine to her list since I was already shredding some), and I'm waiting for the broth to cool down so I can put it away. I'm deciding whether I'll put those cooked veggies in the blender and combine with the broth for added nutrition.
chicken bone broth
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Feb. 20th, 2013 @ 08:56 pm Snapping, Crackling, and Popping: Cooking with GlutenFree Rice Krispies

GF Rice KrispiesGluten-Free (GF) Rice Krispies have been an important part of my cooking this week. I suppose a lot of the cooking and baking I’ve been doing have been attempts to replace the carbs we used to eat – not necessarily the best approach for losing weight but certainly a way to keep the kids from being too resentful of the new diet. Okayyyyyy – and Mom gets a little comfort food to boot.

Peanut butter Rice Krispie treats are the first thing I made when I got my latest shipment of the cereal from Amazon. (Amazon.com is a great place to stock up on GF products.) The recipe is available here: http://www.ricekrispies.com/en_US/recipes/peanut-butter-treats.html#/en_US/recipes/peanut-butter-treats

I’m not a fan of regular Rice Krispie treats, but I love the peanut butter ones. You can add chocolate chips, too, but the non-dairy chips I’ve been using melt more quickly and just sort of smeared throughout the recipe. The next time I try it, I think I’ll just place the chips on top of the treats after they’ve been placed in the pan, push them in, and then let them cool. Be careful to read the ingredients – the most important admonition in going GF – and make sure that flour wasn’t used in processing the marshmallows. JetPuff are fine, though. Also, be sure to get the GF Rice Krispies – regular Krispies have malt barley in them, which has gluten.

Next up? Fried chicken. What? You thought something like that would be impossible on a GF diet? Nope. Rice Krispies make an awesome panko-type coating for frying. I used the recipe at www.food.com/recipe/gluten-free-fried-chicken-488617, but I substituted crushed Rice Krispies for the Rice Chex they use. Place the desired amount of Krispies in a plastic Ziploc and then using a rolling pin to crush the Krispies. I also used sorghum flour as the GF flour and replaced the olive oil with grapeseed oil (B is sensitive to dairy and olive oil, among other things). Peanut oil also can replace the olive oil in frying. Oh, my goodness! This fried chicken disappears in a heartbeat! It also makes good leftovers. While the recipe says to use breasts, legs work just as well.
GF fried chicken

I also made some faux mac-n-cheese using Andean Dream GF macaroni and vegan cheddar and Monterey jack. I sprinkled some crushed Krispies on top of that and put it in the oven to get crunchier. It makes a nice topping for mac-n-cheese.

Tonight’s Krispie food was eggplant. I preheated the oven to 350, then I beat two eggs with 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil and 1TBSP parsley for the egg wash. Then I mixed – you guessed it – crushed Krispies with 1TBSP each of basil, garlic powder, and marjoram (avoiding oregano for me – but I blew it on the garlic) and 1TSP salt and white pepper (B is avoiding black pepper). I dunked the peeled and sliced eggplant in the egg wash and then in the “breading.” I then fried them in some peanut oil (olive or grapeseed would work as well). Yummy!
GF eggplantI coated the bottom of a baking pan with some of my pasta sauce, then I put in a layer of eggplant, overlapping the pieces. I drizzled some more sauce over the eggplant. You saw the note about dairy, above, so I then sprinkled some vegan Parmesan cheese over the whole and then topped that with soy Mozzarella. I then repeated the layering. B won’t usually eat eggplant parmesan, because I usually put a layer of Ricotta in between the layers (Ricotta mixed with Mozarella, egg, and Parmesan cheese as well as parsley and garlic). He loved this recipe and took seconds. Then he and his dad ate the leftover fried eggplant. I bought one too many eggplants, so I’ll be making Baba Ghanouj with the other. I got tired of frying. I also forgot to get a picture of it when I put it on the table, and this tells you how well it went over! I grabbed my phone to take a pic before the last piece got away. So much for leftovers!
GF egg parm

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Feb. 14th, 2013 @ 12:11 pm Doctor's Visit, Feb 2013
Happy Valentine's Day!

Today I learned that there are seven sweet words to hear: "the chocolates are gluten free. I asked." Mmmm, See's chocolates....

For S's birthday, we drove 2 hours to see the pediatric gastroenterologist -- yup, the closest pediatric GI our insurance will cover is that far away. Sitting in a paper gown for 90 minutes is the highlight of any sane person's preteen's birthday...

As of yesterday, S continued to have very little appetite and had not had a BM for three days. A variety of supplements and laxatives have been used over the course of this journey. While magnesium citrate is a surefire -- albeit delayed, unlike most people -- way to get her to go, we've now hit the point where she will get liquid poops from the mag citrate and then stop going again. Prunes, vitamin C powder, live cultures, Endefen, MiraLax (2x the recommended dose): we've tried it all. If you read the last post, you know we've also started a gluten-free diet. So far, that seems to have had no effect on her. Her appetite now has been affected, with her eating a great deal less in the last two weeks. The GI office showed that she had lost a pound since her last visit.

The GI doctor and nurse have decided that S either has irritable bowel syndrome with constipation (IBS-C) or has motility issues, i.e. her digestive tract doesn't move waste along quickly enough. As a result, it piles up, making it even more sluggish and distending the colon further -- yes, it's a vicious circle. She will be undergoing a Sitz Marks Study in order to determine if it's motility. It's really quite ingenious and interesting: the capsule she will swallow has small plastic markers in it. On days 1, 3, and 5, she will have x-rays to determine the location of the markers, i.e. how quickly they are passing through her system. We also received a handout on a FODMAP diet, which is an IBS diet. We are 3/4 of the way on that diet already, since the FODMAP diet is a gluten-free diet. Another interesting element, though, is that broccoli is discouraged on the diet -- this is our "go-to" vegetable, one of the few S and B both like, so we have it quite often. Not anymore! We had already gone dairy free for B, but now it looks like S will be dairy free as well, since this is another FODMAP element.

The doctor and nurse still cannot figure out S' lightheadedness and resultant walking difficulty, her headaches, nor her vomiting, since it is always at night/early morning. I cannot figure out the timing of her vomiting, either, but, in discussions with both the alternative doctor and friends as well as reading The Gluten Effect, it seems clear that head and gut are related. Friends who have migraines reported, in response to my query, that they vomit when they get a migraine or, at the very least and if they catch it soon enough, experience severe nausea. Doesn't this suggest a connection between the systems? The alternative doctor also found that S' adrenal system was compromised, a condition (adrenal exhaustion) the Petersons discuss in their book as a result of gluten. Sure, these are anecdotal 'proofs' and alternative medicine conclusions -- but it seems obvious to me that head and gut are related and that one thus can impact the other.

Yesterday was useful for another reason: finding out why S doesn't want to return to school with a walking implement (probably a cane). I knew already that she didn't want to feel different and that she felt safer at her old school. I knew she had had some difficulties with one boy in her new classroom and that two other boys gave her some difficulty one day (boys she didn't even know at the school). She had worked out the difficulties with the boy in her class, but she is afraid to return with a marker of difference, given her interaction with the other two boys. I didn't realize how much those two incidents had affected her. Her former school had a zero tolerance policy for bullying, something which I appreciated as my son (who has ADHD and Asperger's) grew up there, and S just had never had to deal with the sort of nastiness she experienced at her new school. Truthfully, I think she also just didn't feel secure enough there to know how to handle it -- who and when to tell. It's even more important, then, that she feel secure when she returns to school. She has enough medical stress; she doesn't need to feel socially stressed as well. Unfortunately, she cannot get back in to her old school this year. We are, however, looking into enrolling S in another campus of the same charter school group as her old one.

In today's cooking adventures, I felt the need for pancakes this morning. We have been trying to avoid rice due to B's intolerance, but it is a LOT harder to go GF if you start tossing out rice and corn, as we have. Well, B was off to school already, having had the oatmeal I can't have (thanks, allergies). So I made up a yummy batch of pancakes made with Pamela's* baking mix (hoping also to entice the girl child to eat, to no avail).  I subbed applesauce for the oil to make them healthier, and I added some mashed banana, vanilla powder and some cinnamon (a trick my friend L uses). Mmmmmm! Pamela's makes fantastic pancakes! (*Pamela's uses rice flour as a base for the mix.)

If you are interested in checking out the book I mentioned, the URL is located below.

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Feb. 12th, 2013 @ 05:15 pm Going Gluten Free
Current Mood: anxiousanxious
I think all my FaceBook friends are tired of me going on about our gluten-free journey, so I thought I might try a blog format. We'll see how that works out.

Those of you who have seen some of my posts may have thought, "What is this? Ah, she's been snagged by a faddish diet. Blahblahblah." Except that we're not doing this because we are new crusaders in the evangelism of the latest fad diet. We are doing this because I have a sick little girl, and I hope this will help her. Along the way, it would be great if we could get multiple health problems in this household under control.

This particular part of our journey started in September 2012. My son got the stomach flu and then got over it. His sister seemed to get the stomach flu and then kept vomiting. (Almost) every night. It's been 5 months now. She also has suffered constipation the entire time and cannot walk without holding on to something. It's gotten a wee bit better in that she doesn't lurch as much, but she still needs a wall, a banister, a cane, or a helping hand to get around. She also has been suffering headaches and often gets migraines, although those thankfully have decreased.

All of this didn't come out of the blue exactly, though. Her first bout with constipation started when she was 6 months old. We were on vacation, and she didn't poop for two whole weeks. We called the doctor, got some prune juice and suppositories, and we got her back to pooping. She had far more stomach aches than she should have as she grew, and she often had pellet poops or didn't go for days. When I asked our doctor, he suggested putting her on MiraLax, which, at the time, seemed like a "take some meds and go away" response. I mentioned it one or two times more to him, and he just didn't investigate. Perhaps I should have done as he said, perhaps I should have changed doctors, perhaps perhaps perhaps... Anyway, back to September.

When she continued to be sick, we got referrals for a neurologist, a pediatric GI, and a physical therapist as well as an ENT. We saw the therapist first, since we couldn't get appointments (thanks HMO) quickly with the other doctors. The therapist couldn't really start a plan without having a diagnosis, and Sam's ailments were puzzling to her. Next we saw the neurologist and then the ENT, neither of whom could diagnose her, although the ENT noted an overly strong aversion to light, which made him think she had migraines. The neurologist finally (after three visits we had made on our own, mind you, to the ER, which was useful only for lab work) got her admitted to the hospital, where she spent the next three days. We started in the ER, where the doctor had the nerve to say, "She doesn't look sick." Okay, she wasn't suffering a bullet wound or massive contusions, but she was sick. She also informed me that she would not give her daughter a spinal tap, implying that I should not allow my daughter to have one, either. After her comment about my daughter not being sick, though, I had no trust in anything she had to say. Had I known that the result would be clear and that S would have a brutal headache for the next week, of course I wouldn't have had it done. But nobody was giving me any answers. Over the next few days, S had an MRI, abdominal ultrasound, CT, x-rays, lots of bloodwork, and urinalysis, some of which she had had on our previous trips to the ER. Nothing showed up except a few slight abnormalities in her chemistry and a colon full of stool.

The pediatric GI, when we got in to see her two+ months after calling, was no help either. She had more bloodwork and stool samples performed, and she ultimately performed an upper GI on S. To rule out Hirschprung's, the attending physician for the upper endoscopy also performed tests. And...you guessed it... lots of stool and no results -- other than to rule out other issues. I'm supposed to be grateful that a lot has been ruled out, and I AM thankful my daughter doesn't have some of the things I can imagine. But we still didn't have a diagnosis, and my daughter was still sick.

In January, we traveled to see yet another doctor, one who practices some alternative treatments and diagnostic methods. He found some answers (about time!): a few allergies, including a borderline allergy to gluten, and problems in her large and small intestine as well as her adrenal system. Apparently, difficulties in your adrenal system can cause problems with lightheadedness and fatigue as well as headaches, which my daughter had in spades. At last we had some answers.

First, we did a candida diet, because I and my two children were full of it. Then we started the gluten-free journey; while S is borderline, B and I are much more sensitive (according to testing we had done as well). We are starting the third week of weeding gluten out of our diet. I've cleaned out my cupboards, and I've tried to cut gluten out of our diet -- not always successfully, but learning as we go. S is still sick and has gotten backed up again. We are off to another appointment with the GI's office tomorrow, and I hope we have something to report then. More answers, more help would be a good birthday present for my baby.

Meanwhile, I'm reading _The Gluten Effect_, recommended by my friend L, who is well acquainted with several forms of gluten intolerance and Celiac disease. I'm also baking a lot to cushion my son's break from some of his favorite foods. So, I'll be posting some of the recipes and sites that have been useful to us on our journey thus far.
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Nov. 1st, 2010 @ 08:38 am 1b: PART TWO of "The Wheel Never Stops Turning"...

The shot of Mal kissing the cross is so quick that it is easy to miss, literally lasting 1-2 seconds.  The conjunction of Mal’s expression of faith with Serenity Valley and the turning of the war to bitter defeat is necessary to understanding Mal’s later expressions of disdain for faith and its practice and the ways in which he is, for all intents and purposes, stuck in Serenity Valley.  This is true for the scene which follows: the camera focuses upon Mal watching the Alliance ships descend – shooting Bendis in the process, contrary to Mal’s earlier assurances to Bendis of heavenly protection.[xiii]  The mise-en-scène is essential here as well, with Mal’s face shot half in shadow, low key lighting, no ambient sound (music replaces it), the slow motion death of Bendis, and the slow dolly in to a close-up shot of Mal’s shocked face.  Time literally slows down and ensnares Mal within Serenity Valley like an insect in amber.  The impact of this moment is shown in part through the editing, cutting from this shot to Mal upside down “six years later,” which suggests the continued upheaval of Mal’s world (Buckman). These six years represent a large gap which will not be addressed until “Out of Gas” fills in some of that time, providing additional thick moments.  The lack of observable growth during that period suggests that six years later is very little time indeed for someone who is still stuck in the past.[xiv] 

In Cynthea Masson’s essay on “The Girl in Question,” an episode from another Joss Whedon production, Angel, she argues a point that reverbrates throughout the Whedonverse:  the need to move on from one’s past or risk getting stuck there in a Waiting for Godot-like crisis.  This is vital to Firefly as well as to the other Whedon productions, including Buffy.  Mal’s loss of faith is not truly a loss:  he remains burdened by his anger over God’s seeming desertion of him at Serenity Valley and the ensuing Browncoat defeat, so much so that the ship, which represents freedom to Mal (“Out of Gas”), instead represents his stagnancy:  “There’s no place I can be since I’ve found Serenity.”  Serenity, which is meant to be a state of peace and equilibrium, instead is a sign for the battle never fully left behind.  He literally carries it around with him through the sky.[xv]  Badger remarks on this in the “Serenity” pilot, going so far as to state that Mal is not a captain; instead, “…I think you’re still a sergeant.  Still a soldier.  Man of honor in a den of thieves.”  One useful moment of “The Train Job” is finding out that Mal always manages to find himself “in an Alliance-friendly bar…come U[nification] day.”  In this episode, he finds himself on the edge of a precipice, surrounded by Alliance-friendly barflies, and he remarks to Zoe,“This is why we lost [the war].  Superior numbers.”  “Thanks for the re-enactment, Sir,” Zoe dryly replies.  He is stuck, repeating time and place incessantly.  In “Bushwhacked,” the captain of the Alliance ship observes, “For some, the war will never be over… I notice your ship’s called Serenity. …Some say…the war ended in that valley.  Seems odd you’d name your ship after a battle you were on the wrong side of,” getting at Mal’s refusal to move past Serenity Valley.  Such inability to work through the past is one more aspect of generic characterization for the Western hero and the war veteran, both of whom generally carry the past with them (see, for example, John Ford’s Stagecoach or the more recent Dances with Wolves).  John Cawelti writes that the violent past of the Western hero often serves to alienate him from community (82); while Mal has formed his own tightly knit community on Serenity, including even a few who did not fight in the war or who actively supported unification (Wash, Jayne, River and Simon did not fight, and Inara supported it), he is alienated from the larger ‘verse.  Mary Alice Money notes, regarding Mal in “Out of Gas,” “The hero remains, ultimately, locked away, maintaining his status as loner even while we watch his memories unfold” (123).[xvi]

One might argue that River’s character is static as well:  her path to recovery from the experimentation performed by the Alliance is uncertain and slow.  This experimentation – and the mysterious men with hands of blue – pursues her and prevents her from moving on.  However, such moments as her nightmares, one example of which occurs in “The Train Job,” provide thick moments in which place and time intertwine.  Time and place are experienced differently within the dreamscape than within reality.  The pain and terror River feels is communicated visually and aurally with expressionistic sounds of pain and a rhythmic noise that suggests a heartbeat.  The cinematography of the nightmare scene is important:  the bright lights, blurry quality of the picture, and use of spotlight drown out the details of place even as place – both within a laboratory and within Alliance control – and time are exceptionally important.  Extreme closeups of her head, hands, and puncture sites, off center framing, lack of clarity, and slow motion as well as bright lighting and expressionistic sound form a moment out of time and place that is simply nightmarish and neverending.  The latter seems true even once she awakes since she cannot leave this past behind due to the literal physical and emotional trauma she has suffered as a result of it. 

Once onboard Serenity, River must be coaxed into the surgical bay because it reminds her of the trauma endured at the hands of the Alliance.  This trauma is the best evidence – other than their callous attitude and storm trooper-esque costumes – that the Alliance is suspect as a system until the film Serenity.  Due to its narrative placement, the nightmare scene of the Alliance’s manipulation of River becomes analogous to Nisska’s torture of those who fail him:  it becomes a critique of the system in place.  Additionally, as a result of the predominant generic elements of the series, one might view River’s story as a captivity narrative, a reversal in which the forces of order and civilization take on the role of the barbaric savage of the traditional Western even as the origin story of the Reavers – which differs importantly from that which we saw in the series – will be revealed as a story of fascistic control and imperialism. 

The editing of the first scene of Serenity makes clear this connection between imperialism and River’s story; Jeffrey Bussolini, in “A Geopolitical Interpretation of Serenity,” argues that the film is a critical commentary on U.S. foreign relations as well as “policies of pharmaceutical and military control” (139).  Mercedes Lackey connects the Alliance’s use of psychological warfare to 20th and 21st century American political life as well (64).  In the opening scene of the film, River’s teacher is explaining the conflict between the Alliance and the Independents as one resulting from the foolhardy and misguided ignorance of the Independents.  The scenery of this central planet is peaceful and lush, the classroom outdoors, and the teacher mildmannered and softspoken.  Time progresses at a normal, relaxed pace.  Asking why the Independents would reject the Alliance, the teacher approaches River, who has offered that, “We meddle….We’re in their homes and in their heads, and we haven’t the right.  We’re meddlesome.”  “River,” she responds, “we’re not telling people what to think.  We’re just trying to show them how.”  She then stabs at River’s forehead with River’s stylus, which then becomes a needle stabbed into River’s head by one of the doctors in the lab.  “She’s dreaming.”  “Got that?  Off the charts.”  “Scary monsters.”  The editing creates a direct link between education, experimentation on humans, and imperialism.  The teacher becomes the doctor’s “scary monsters” just as, later, a Reaver will attack River in her memory of this moment.  Sharon Sutherland and Sarah Swan discuss this scene as well in their essay on Serenity as dystopic fiction.  They write, “The message [of this scene] is abundantly clear:  the state has won the war and will not tolerate questions as it teaches its children its version of history” (93), and they argue that dystopic fiction often addresses the manipulation of history in the education of the populace (93).  That this manipulation occurs within the heart of the Alliance is appropriate as well, suggesting the rotten core of the system. 

The events on Miranda function as a parallel for River’s abuse at the hands of the Alliance.  It is River who finds the tape detailing the effects of the Pax, and the mise-en-scène suggests that the female scientist recording the information is speaking directly to River – with River even mouthing the scientist’s words along with her at one moment, seeming to know what the scientist will say.  After the tape is turned off and River vomits, she is able to positively respond to Simon’s query about her health: “alright.  I’m alright.”  Her repetition, her tone, and her glance upward at her brother in surprise seems to suggest that this new knowledge has healed her, has allowed her to integrate the fragments of her self as she recogizes her own abuse by the Alliance as analogous to the abuse of the population of Miranda, which, although it occurred 12 years previous, seems to function as if in the present through the hologram.  The fear of the Reavers evident in the holographic woman’s words is very much a fear for the present crew as well.  Sealed off for those twelve years from the rest of the system due, once again, to the manipulation of history and knowledge, Miranda exists as if in a time bubble that is burst once the crew of Serenity discovers her secret. 

Now that River has control of this information, she has power over it; she is no longer able to be controlled by the Alliance, and her crew does not need to fear her as unknown danger.  Knowledge, combined with the force of community, has given her the ability to NOT be a Reaver.  This is the story the Alliance wanted to keep from River and the rest of the ‘verse; by gaining access to knowledge, she becomes a threat to their control over both her body and the worlds.  Place, time, and movement coalesce through Miranda, River, and Mal’s pasts and the physical site/sight of this trauma in the present; this chronotope engages with the ideology of both science fiction and Western genres of Serenity, leading up to the moment of the Western’s last stand. 

What we see in these examples of River and Mal is the interaction of place with time, character, genre, and ideology.  Each of these moments focuses on the individual and their loss of a sense of control over the world, a theme important to the borderland location of the Western as well as a signal of its postmodern construction and production; science fiction often relies upon the motif of autonomy as well.  When both the Captain and River gain the knowledge of Miranda in Serenity, it enables their action, their withdrawal from unproductive stasis.  The Captain feels free to embrace the “bad guy” within (although he becomes the white hat by distributing knowledge) while River takes her “turn” at protecting Simon and the rest of the crew; both commit to the last stand.  And yet one might wonder what the outcome of this stand will be and whether it will bring meaningful change.  The philosophy here seems similar to that expressed in Whedon’s Angel:  “if nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do” (“Epiphany” 2.16). 

The final moments of Joss Whedon’s Serenity are typical of Hollywood cinema:  Captain Reynolds and River sit on the bridge of the ship, Serenity, and the former gives an aptly romantic speech about how love keeps a spaceship flying.  Enemies vanquished, at least for the moment, and casualties tallied, Reynolds and River will fly off into the sunset with their remaining crew, living to fight another day.  This neatly wrapped bit of closure differs, however, from the narrative momentum of the television series Firefly and the first portion of the feature film Serenity.  One might wonder why it differs – isn’t this prototypical Hollywood ending reflective of many Western and science fiction and fantasy stories and thus a fitting end?  A chronotopic analysis would suggest that this ending would be appropriate in that it does reflect the usual generic Hollywood ending.  However, in analyzing the construction of time and space within Firefly and Serenity, we may see why so much of the series does not fit within the framework of the ending.  Though a comforting and triumphant ending for fans who lamented the early cancellation of Firefly, providing them with some narrative closure, this ending is in stark contrast to the dominant construction of time and place within the series and the first part of the film; the narrative relies upon constant movement between the past and present. 

In discussing the chronotope, Bakhtin theorized about the text as a whole.  Here, I have discussed a few moments that seem particularly charged in terms of the interaction of time and place with the narrative and its ideology.  Set several hundred years in the future, Firefly and Serenity rely upon genres firmly rooted in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  In using the Western, Whedon relies upon a genre which emphasizes the individual in conflict with both order and chaos, as represented respectively by the forces of civilization and ‘barbarism’, one which generally dealt with a nation torn apart in the aftermath of the Civil War.  The science fiction aspect provides models for dystopia and the depiction of scientific inquiry.  Both genres move toward a revised manifest destiny.  By setting the series and the film within a future and yet using past – although tweaked – narrative modes, the narrative action itself is firmly embedded within the past, much like the Captain and River.  Mal and his crew are trapped physically, temporally, and generically between the border and the core planets and between past and future, endlessly moving.    

Works Cited

Alexander, Lily.  “Storytelling in Time and Space:  Studies in the Chronotope and Narrative Logic on Screen.”  Journal of Narrative Theory 37.1 (Winter 2007):  27-64. 

Best, Janice.  “The Chronotope and the Generation of Meaning in Novels and Paintings.”  Criticism 36.2 (Spring 1994):  291-317.  Web.  May 2010.

Buckman, Alyson. “‘Much Madness is Divinest Sense’: Firefly’s ‘Big Damn Heroes’ and Little Witches.” Investigating Firefly and Serenity: Science Fiction on the Frontier. Eds. RhondaV. Wilcox and Tanya R. Cochran. New York: I.B. Tauris, 2008. 41-49. Print.

Bussolini, Jeffrey.  “A Geopolitical Interpretation of Serenity.”  Wilcox and Cochran.  139-152.

Cawelti, John.  The Six-Gun Mystique Sequel.  Bowling Green, OH :  Bowling Green State U Popular P, 1999.

Emerson, Caryl.  “The Outer Word and Inner Speech:  Bakhtin, Vygotsky, and the Internalization of Language.”  Morson.  21-40. 

Ganser, Alexandra, Julia Pühringer, and Markus Rheindorf.  “Bakhtin’s Chronotope On the Road:  Space, Time, and Place in Road Movies Since the 1970s.”  Linguistics and Literature 4.1 (2006): 1-17.

“Here’s How It Was:  The Making of Firefly.”  Firefly.  Dir. Joss Whedon.  20th Century Fox, 2003. 

Jowett, Lorna.  “Back to the Future:  Retrofuturism, Cyberpunk, and Humanity in Firefly and Serenity.”  Wilcox and Cochran.  101-113.

Lackey, Mercedes.  Serenity and Bobby McGee:  Freedom and the Illusion of Freedom in Joss Whedon’s Firefly.”  finding Serenity:  Anti-heroes, Lost Shepherds and Space Hookers in Joss Whedon’s Firefly.  Ed. Jane Espenson.  Dallas:  BenBella, 2004.  63-73.

Lerner, Neil.  “Music, Race, and Paradoxes of Representation:  Jubal Early’s Musical Motif of Barbarism in ‘Objects in Space.’”  Wilcox and Cochran.  183-190.

Maio, Barbara.  “Between Past and Future:  Hybrid Design Style in Firefly and Serenity.”  Wilcox and Cochran.  201-211.

Masson, Cynthea.  “What the Hell? – Angel’s ‘The Girl in Question’.”  SC 3:  The Slayage Conference on the Whedonverses, Arkadelphia, AK, June 2008.

Massood, Paula J.  Boyz N the Hood Chronotopes:  Spike Lee, Richard Price, and the Changing Authorship of Clockers.”  Literature and Film:  A Guide to the Theory and Practice of Film Adaptation.  Ed. Robert Stam and Alessandra Raengo.  Malden, MA et al:  Blackwell, 191-207.

Money, Mary Alice.  Firefly’s ‘Out of Gas’:  Genre Echoes and the Hero’s Journey.”  Wilcox and Cochran.114-124.

Morris, Pam, ed.  The Bakhtin Reader:  Selected Writings of Bakhtin, Medvedev, Voloshinov.  New York, et al: Edward Arnold, 1994.

Morson, Gary Saul, ed.  Bakhtin:  Essay and Dialogues on His Work.  Chicago and London:  U Chicago P, 1986. 

---.  “Who Speaks for Bakhtin?”  Morson.  1-19.

Pateman, Matthew.  “Deathly Serious:  Mortality, Morality, and the Mise-En-Scène in Firefly and Serenity.”  Wilcox and Cochran.  212-223.

“Serenity: The Tenth Character.”  Firefly.  Dir. Joss Whedon.  20th Century Fox, 2003. 

Sutherland, Sharon and Sarah Swan.  “‘The Alliance Isn’t Some Evil Empire’: Dystopia in Joss Whedon’s Firefly/Serenity.”  Wilcox and Cochran.  89-100.

Stam, Robert and Alessandra Raengo, eds.  Literature and Film:  A Guide to the Theory and Practice of Film Adaptation.  Victoria, Australia; Malden, MA; and Oxford:  Blackwell, 2005.

Titan Books.  Serenity: The Official Visual Companion.  London: Titan, 2005.

Turner, Frederick Jackson.  The Significance of the Frontier in American History.  Crossroads Project, University of Virginia.  30 Sept 1997.   <http://xroads.virginia.edu/~hyper/turner/chapter1.html>.  15 Jan 2008.

Whedon, Joss and Nathan Fillion.  “Commentary on ‘Serenity, Parts I and II.’”  Firefly.  Dir. Joss Whedon.  20th Century Fox, 2003.

Wilcox, Rhonda, and Tanya Cochran.  Investigating Firefly and Serenity:  Science Fiction on the Frontier. London and New York:  I.B. Tauris, 2008. 

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Nov. 1st, 2010 @ 08:36 am 1a. “Wheel Never Stops Turning”: Chronotopes and Movement in Joss Whedon’s Firefly and Serenity
Current Mood: tiredtired

[This is a ROUGH draft -- I just need to get it away from me for a little while... :-)  Hope it's not TOO awful.  I would like it to cohere better than I think it does.  And there's SO much more to talk about...]

 “Wheel Never Stops Turning”:  Chronotopes and Movement in Joss Whedon’s Firefly and Serenity

Joss Whedon’s Firefly begins[i] with the action-packed scene of Sergeant Malcolm Reynolds running through the heat of battle, dodging bombs and bullets, until he reaches the small cave in which his platoon is quartered.  The beginning of Serenity, the film based on Firefly, revolves around action as well:  from the escape of River and Simon Tam from a government facililty to Captain Malcolm Reynolds walking through his spaceship in a beautiful oner that allows the audience the feeling of walking through the ship with him, movement is emphasized.   These active beginnings – indicative of the whole of the series and the film – express a central aspect of the chronotopes of both texts:  movement.  Spatially, temporally, narratively, cinematographically, and generically, there is constant movement of one sort or another, movement which reflects the creativity of Whedon’s approach and suggests new ways of thinking about both chronotopes and these texts.  We move from the advanced, twenty-sixth-century technology of the core planets to the nineteenth-century conditions of the rim, from a war story to science fiction to the road movie to the Western, advancing the characterization of both crew and ship as we go.  In the midst of all this is a camera that is rarely stationary.  Such movement is reflective not only of the space in which the object moves but also of the time which such movement takes.  It also is reflective of shifts in characterization – or lack thereof – and whether characters are metaphorically stuck or in motion, i.e. whether they are able to move onward from their pasts and to grow.[ii]  The relationship of the texts to history, including its ideological world view, is important within this as well.  According to Mikhail Bakhtin, genre is an intrinsic part of how both literal and figurative movement play out – but what happens when an author (or, in the case of Joss Whedon, an auteur) utilizes multiple genres which contradict each other in regard to narrative movement, i.e. ones in which the narrative tropes are both progressive and regressive?  While Robert Stam writes that “concrete spatiotemporal structures,” aka chronotopes, place limits on the possibilities of narration and characterization and thus influence the structure of the fictional world (204-5), Whedon’s mixing of genres reopens the possibilities inherent within the text and creates a text in which the constant movement of the form is in league with the restlessness of the content.

Mikhail Bakhtin theorized that the “intrinsic connectedness”  between time and place within a text[iii] was tied to genre and produced certain types of characters as well as setting forth a particular ideological world view; he termed these coalescent elements a “chronotope,” which, literally translated, means “time space” (84).  For instance, in “the adventure novel of ordeal,” as Bakhtin terms classical Greek romance, nothing changes as the hero embarks on his quests; in terms of characterization, he ends where he began.  Although the hero is tested and overcomes obstacles, “nothing changes: the world remains as it was … feelings do not change, people do not even age” (91).  Conversely, in the “adventure novel of everyday life,” transformation is essential.  These are characters who are free to act in surprising and non-traditional ways and whose biography extends beyond the confines of the story, resulting in untapped potential, as Caryl Emerson argues (34-35).  At the heart of the picaresque novel, a descendent of this form, lies a rogue or servant on the road, a description reminiscent of Mal and his crew on Serenity.  As occurs with the characters on board Serenity, moments in the protagonist’s lives become one with their “actual spatial course or road – that is, with [their] wanderings” (Bakhtin 120).  As the previous point suggests, the place within which these adventures are set is not “mere background”; as Gary Saul Morson notes:  “the social world defines and shapes from within the possibility of action, the succession of thoughts, and the world of choices” (14).  Time and place are meaningful in a way that they are not in the epic, Bakhtin argues:  “Time, as it were, thickens and takes on flesh, becomes artistically visible; likewise, space becomes charged and responsive to the movements of time, plot and history” (84).  As we can see, the chronotope generates not only the events of the text but the symbolism of it as well (Best 1).

Included within this symbolism is the use of tropes.  Firefly and Serenity use tropes predominantly from the Western, science fiction, and road trip genres, although at times mystery, war, and horror tropes are used as well.[iv] In his discussion of chronotopes, Robert Stam resists the consideration of genre as a delimited and stable category, since issues of taxonomy and essentialism often arise and obscure the intertextuality often found within particular instances of genre – the connection “of any utterance to other utterances … Any text that has slept with another text, to put it more crudely, has necessarily slept with all the texts the other text has slept with” (201-2).  Thus, for instance, there are several examples of Western that are congruent with the framework of road movies:  the cowboy figure who is unable to settle down, who must constantly keep moving, and who, along the way, encounters strangers and adventures.  However, even while Stam’s points about intertextuality and the slipperiness of generic categories are valid, it is still useful to understand the basic boundaries of these genres in order to understand how the fiction works.  For instance, examining the narrative in regard to the contours of each of the aforementioned genres of these two texts enables one to see the element of movement so important to the texts.  While the Western looks backward to the nineteenth century, science fiction looks to the future; Whedon has stated that, “I wanted to create a show that took the past and the future and put them together by making them feel like the present” (“Here’s How”).  The Firefly universe (aka the ‘verse) is divided into core and rim planets in an analogue of the wheel of fortune (or rota fortunae); in reference to this, Mal tells Badger at one point, “The wheel never stops turning, Badger.”  Badger replies, “That only matters to the people on the rim” (“Serenity” 1.1).  There is a visual analogue to the dialogue at this point, one which is meant to stress the line (Whedon and Fillion) and the movement therein.  From an over-the-shoulder shot of Badger behind Mal, the camera pulls back behind Badger to, as Mal moves away from Badger, a zoom in to closeup on Mal.  The camera then cuts to a closeup of Badger and zooms out.[v]  This provides a sense of the dynamic motion of the phrasing; the phrasing itself indicates the lower socioeconomic and political status of the rim planets as their fortunes are much less stable.  The generic elements have analogues in the landscape also:  the landscapes and people of the rim planets are akin to those of the Western (for example, dirt roads, nineteenth-century clothing, travel by horses, and difficult, stressful lives in which resources are always an issue), while those of the core planets are futuristic (skyscrapers, good health care, plentiful resources, and high technological and educational levels abound)[vi]; the characters move repeatedly between these genres in a technologically advanced version of the stagecoach.[vii]  Although it is difficult to make generalizations about movement in relation to science fiction, there are certainly multiple examples of this pattern: The Matrix, Star Wars, Star Wars, and Battlestar Galactica are only a few of the most notable of the films and television series which emphasize movement.    Generally speaking, though, science fiction is about moving forward in a linear narrative of progress.  Barbara Maio writes that the “exploration of new territories” is a point of commonality between the Western and science fiction (204).  By and large, the Western itself is about movement: cattle drives, Indian raids, battles between landowners, criminals, and/or the law all make for a genre marked by movement in general.  Several important Westerns are about internal movement as well:  coming to terms with one’s identity is an integral aspect of such films as High Noon, Stagecoach, Red River, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence as well as The Searchers and Shane.  Westerns often are marked by the Civil War and the men who fought in it as well, and this provides another element of necessary analysis of Firefly, albeit one we do not have time for here.  Suffice it to say that Joss Whedon had to put Mal on one side or the other of the Civil War – metaphorically captured within the ‘verse as the war for unification between the Independents (aka Browncoats) and the Alliance – since this war helped shape the West and, hence, the genre that sprang from it.  Putting Mal on the losing side of the war[viii] enabled Whedon to create a character full of bitterness at the victor, one whose anger at the Alliance remains unresolved and one who felt the need to , in the words of Mark Twain in Huck Finn, “light out for the territory” in the face of defeat.  Such lighting out for the frontier – to “just get a little further” than the long arm of the Alliance, as Mal tells Zoe in “Out of Gas” – is one overlapping element between the Western, the space operas of science fiction, and the chronotope of the road.    

Lily Alexander discusses the chronotope of the road as one of the first cultural chronotopes; she argues that, while this road was revitalized through 1960s culture, by the end of the decade this road became a dead end.  The outsiders so vital to the chronotope of the road were relegated to the discourse of crime and punishment, and “the road became again a devouring dragon” until it was replaced by the chronotope of space travel in the 1970-80s (30-31).  Alexandra Ganser, Julia Pühringer, and Markus Rheindorf see the post-1960s road movie not in terms of a switch to chronotopes of space travel but, in conjunction with Vietnam and increased American mobility, as a critique of American ideologies of home and patriotism.  Their analysis illustrates the ways in which the chronotope also may be used to study the fictional depiction of actual “historical time and space” (2).

The “chronotope of encounter” (Bakhtin 243) is congruous with the chronotope of the road, although not limited to it, and represents flux and diversity:  “the spatial and temporal paths of the most varied people – representatives of all social classes, estates, religions, nationalities, ages – intersect at one spatial and temporal point” (243).  Hence, movement is occurring between socioeconomic strata in the chronotope of encounter, and this is part of Firefly’s movement as well.  Taking on passengers in order to make enough money to fuel their ship, the main crew of Mal, Zoe, Wash, Kaylee, and Jayne are joined by Shepherd Book, Simon and River Tam, and, for the first episode, Dobson.  Travelling with them as well in her rented shuttle is the companion, Inara, who ironically provides a measure of respectability for the ship.  While the main crew is marked by their low status, the passengers represent a wide stratum:  Book is a shepherd allegedly looking to “walk [the world] awhile”; Simon is a once-prosperous surgeon forced to flee his comfortable life in order to protect his sister, River, who is a fugitive from Alliance medical experimentation; and Dobson turns out to be an Alliance agent.  The chance encounter with the Tams and Book provide Mal’s character with the opportunity to be more hero than scoundrel; it elevates him.  Over the course of the narrative, many of these characters will grow in characterization.  This certainly is true of Mal, River, Simon, and Jayne.  These gains, however, are not necessarily permanent, and this is evidenced by Mal’s more ambiguous and tortured character at the beginning of Serenity.

Included within Ganser at al’s analysis of the chronotope of the road is a discussion of the “‘snowballing’ effect … with actions gaining momentum as the protagonists drive across a space that is anything but empty” (3).  Ganser et al use Thelma and Louise as an example of this effect, but they might just as well use Serenity.  Certainly, between the Reavers[ix] and the Alliance, the space within which the crew of Serenity travels is far from empty; add to that Mr. Universe and the multiple trade stations and settlements that exist, and the ‘verse is beginning to get quite crowded.  Even when the ship is parked at the “corner of No and Where,” as Mal remarks in “Out of Gas,” another ship manages to come across them.  In keeping with the “snowballing effect,” the film follows the classical narrative formula of rising action, climax, and denouement as well: expecting to leave River and Simon at a trading post, the crew’s plans are interrupted by River’s initially inexplicable transformation into a weapon of mass destruction.  Learning that the planet Miranda seems to be a key element to unlocking the secrets of River’s brain and those of the Alliance and fleeing the Alliance Operative who also is leaving a trail of destruction as he closes in on the crew of Serenity, the narrative launches into warp speed as the crew first travels to Miranda and then travels to Mr. Universe in order to broadcast the truth about Alliance “meddl[ing],” as River calls it.  While the majority of the crew attempts to stave off the Reavers, Mal must fight the Operative in order to get to a backup broadcast system.  These actions depend upon escalating movement.

Whedon is able to have his cake and eat it, too, though, in that, in the midst of all this movement, the ship simultaneously is still.  Rather than moving through physical space in a car, which brings with it multiple limitations, these characters live in a spaceship, one which functions very much as a domestic space and, hence, also imbues the show with aspects of the domestic drama.  The ship as home enables a sense of community even as it provides mobility, a mobility which also suggests exile and migration and might otherwise suggest placelessness as well.  However, Serenity, as Whedon has discussed, becomes a tenth character (“Serenity: The Tenth”) and is place-full.[x]  Interior spaces are equivalently important to the action of the series as well as the development of characters, another type of movement.  It is this character development I would like to address next, although I will be able to discuss only a few examples of character in relation to time and place.  This is an especially rich area of inquiry.

The first example of important character development tied in to a thick chronotope I have discussed elsewhere:  the war scene in Serenity Valley and the depiction of Malcolm Reynolds.  These opening moments achieve a great deal, setting forth the terms of this ‘verse, including the intertextuality and generic mashup that will be central to the narrative:  the war film, combined with science fiction, will later be supplanted by the Western.[xi]  The opening scenes also establish our hero through the POV shots, shot length, dialogue, and narrative time.[xii]  The establishment of chracterization is essential here, and place and time are firmly intertwined.  Within the Serenity Valley sequence, two moments in place are essential to the narrative that follows:  Mal kissing the cross and Mal watching his “angels” turn into Alliance vessels.


[i] This essay will follow the DVD order of episodes, which corresponds to Joss Whedon’s planned episode structure.

[ii] See Alexandra Ganser et al for a discussion of the coalescence of the literal and metaphoric journey within the chronotope of the road (5-6).

[iii] Bakhtin limited his discussion to the novel, although he did not exclude other cultural forms from analysis (84).  As Janice Best, Paula J. Massood, and Robert Stam have also shown, chronotopic analysis is useful to other types of texts, such as painting and film.  Robert Stam finds film especially suited to chronotopic analysis in its construction of both timing and space through such respective elements as editing and mise-en-scene (Stam and Raengo 27).  The visual aspect of cinema clearly seems conducive to discussing the representation of narrative chronotopes.  

[iv] Whedon’s use of multiple genres is one of the stamps of his work as an auteur; his previous shows, Buffy: the Vampire Slayer and Angel freely mixed elements of teen romance, horror, comedy, film noir, and fantasy.  Sharon Sutherland and Sarah Swan also argue that the series fits within the dystopic tradition as well. 

[v] This is only one example of a cinematography on the move.  For instance, tracking shots, which are often used in road movies (Ganser et al 4), are often used in Firefly and Serenity as well.  Even as the characters are often moving – meals in the galley are one of the few times they sit, although even then someone often is getting up and moving – the camera is often moving.  The repeated use of a handheld camera and zoom create a sense of movement; if the camera is not actively moving, then cutting is creating a sense of motion or images in the frame are moving, such as shots of the ship flying.

[vi] Barbara Maio argues that some of the design elements of the core planets originate in the 1950s to 1970s (202).

[vii] The code switching is not as fixed as I perhaps seem to suggest here; as Maio notes, Whedon often switches seamlessly between Western and science fiction codes and back again within the same scene (203).  Additionally, Lorna Jowett argues that the Western and science fiction share between them an emphasis on “moving the boundaries of ‘civilization’ forward” (103), a critique of capitalism, and a belief in manifest destiny through improving people (104).

[viii] Whedon argues the importance of the use of the South in Firefly and Serenity is that Mal fought for the losing side – rather than the more problematic idea that, in seeming to represent the Confederate soldier in costuming and ideological positioning, Mal supported slavery: he stated, “The basic tenet was that it was [analogous to the post-United States Civil War] Reconstruction era.  Mal had fought for the South – not for slavery, I can’t stress that enough…, but for [the losing side]” (Titan 8).  Any support for slavery is refuted in a few different episodes, including the pilot, “The Train Job,” and “Jaynestown.”

[ix] The Reavers are the boogeymen of the ‘verse and function similarly to Native Americans of classic Westerns, threatening the safe passage of Serenity within the system.  Within the film, it is learned that the Reavers are, in fact, the result of Alliance experimentation with the Pax, an airborne drug meant to remove aggression within the population of Miranda but which instead resulted in two polar effects: apathy so strong that the inhabitants simply stopped moving and died or, in a minority of the population, aggression so intense that this minority turned into savage, crazed cannibals, rapists, and murderers.  In an ironic commentary upon the construction of Native Americans within Westerns, Whedon lays responsibility for the Reavers at the feet of the Alliance:  in their attempt to bring civilization to the ‘verse and “make people better” (Serenity), they reaped savagery and death.  Nineteenth-century views of Native Americans, on the other hand, rested upon the idea that Euro-American civilization would bring progress and improvement to the former’s lives.  According to Frederick Jackson Turner in his 1893 frontier thesis,

In this advance [of westward movement], the frontier is the outer edge of the wave-- the meeting point between savagery and civilization…. Line by line as we read this continental page from West to East we find the record of social evolution. It begins with the Indian and the hunter; it goes on to tell of the disintegration of savagery by the entrance of the trader, the pathfinder of civilization . . .

[x] There are multiple points at which Serenity is treated as a living entity.  For instance, in “Heart of Gold,” Kaylee says that she will “ask Serenity” about some parts to refit a water system.  See also Barbara Maio, page 209.

[xi] Barbara Maio points to some of the films from which Firefly and Serenity drew their design elements in order to create a generic hybrid.

[xii] As I argued in another essay, this traditional set up of the hero later will be undercut, and River and the Captain will share the narrative center. 

[xiii] “We’re not gonna die.  We can’t die, Bendis, and you know why?  Because we are so…very…pretty.  We are just too pretty for God to let us die.” 

[xiv] Additionally, the emphasis upon the war film in the opening is not in opposition with the Western in space that will follow; the Western often featured veterans of the Civil War, and this war is not dissimilar from the war for unification in the Firefly ‘verse.

[xv] See Matthew Pateman on this as well (212).

[xvi] Mary Alice Money discusses the generic elements at the heart of Firefly, including the use of Western tropes in “Out of Gas”; she mentions the influence not only of Stagecoach, but also of Have Gun, Will Travel and, for this particular episode, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1944 Lifeboat and The High and the Mighty, among others.

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Mar. 21st, 2009 @ 08:44 pm Vacuous Dolls

So The New Yorker writes "In terms of gender studies, it is notable that Dushku’s demeanor as a zombie is much the same as the demeanor many actresses her age resort to when trying to project an image of themselves as unthreatening and “feminine”: a slouchy walk, a bobbly head, and ever-parted lips. Would someone please show these actresses a movie starring Katharine Hepburn, Barbara Stanwyck, Irene Dunne, Bette Davis, Cate Blanchett, Meryl Streep, or Judy Davis?"  

This critique doesn't make sense to me (although I enjoyed the dig about Dushku graduating from the academy of cleavage).  Not only is Dushku demonstrating her acting chops more and more in episodes (again, just no more of that college video!), but her portrayal of vacuousness may be exactly what she/Whedon's going for.  As a self-proclaimed feminist, gender is one of the many things Whedon does well.  Could he perhaps be making a critique of just the look NY picks up on?  Katharine Hepburn *would not work as a doll* -- her presence, and that of the other women listed above, is far too forceful.  It just wouldn't work.  It helps Dushku in her portrayal of [what the Dollhouse makes into] a seeming nobody that she is not a well known actress.  She needs to look helpless to carry off the role and to reverse the stereotype of herself as bimbo.  If she seems forceful she wouldn't/couldn't carry off the tabula rasa state within the house.  By acting vacuous, her character seems believable as someone who has had her mind wiped.  Additionally, she doesn't pose a security threat.  If her manner carried personality, like the women above (women who became typecast in many ways for just this reason), she wouldn't be believable as a doll.  Also, this state makes clearer the changes that begin to occur.  She's been getting less vacuous, it seems, and this is purposeful.  She must grow into personhood -- it's been stolen from her to begin with, making her case analogous to that of many women who throw away their personalities to fit into a particular construction of womanhood.

There's certainly plenty of work for gender theorists in this show, but I don't think NY has a clue about the subtext here....

I've got to watch the sixth episode again before I can write anything about that! 
(edited to clean up)
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