Going Gluten Free: One Year Later

I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day, but Feb. 14 is still a momentous anniversary for me. As of Feb. 14, 2016, I have been gluten-free for a full year!

When I first learned about celiac disease and eating gluten-free, I would not have believed you if you told me I would be 100% gluten-free someday. I never thought I could have gone without bread, pasta, and basic pizza for this long. But once I realized how much better it made me feel (after mere days), I knew there was no going back.

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There have been trials, of course. There was a family event at which I could eat nothing but coleslaw and Hershey kisses. I had to get a salad when my dad invited me over for pizza because they weren’t going to buy me a whole GF pizza for myself. I put off telling a lot of people about being GF because I thought they would be skeptical, dismissing it as a fad diet or paranoia. I’ve had to give up Chinese food almost entirely–and I looooooove Chinese food. (Regular soy sauce has wheat in it, and of course many things are breaded.) I’ve had to give up a lot of comfort and convenience foods–fish and chips, Pringles, soft pretzels, fried chicken, my aunt’s Christmas cookies, chicken noodle soup, and Twix bars. I almost had a breakdown while on vacation in Colorado this summer because in a small town in the middle of nowhere, the only options were a Chinese restaurant or a Mexican restaurant (corn is also problematic for me). On this same vacation, I quickly got tired of my “fruit and yogurt” breakfast when I couldn’t consume the cereals, muffins, and toast available as part of the “continental” breakfast. I still have dreams about accidentally (and sometimes deliberately) eating gluten. I can’t partake in the bagels or doughnuts that people often bring to work.

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I will have my revenge.

There have also been triumphs and pleasant surprises. Many friends and family have been incredibly supportive and kind during this year of adjustment, willing to learn about gluten and to be flexible when hosting me. An excellent Thai restaurant near me will make many things GF, so I have not had to go without Pad Thai. Bethany sent me America’s Test Kitchen GF Baking cookbook. My aunt willingly switched from flour to corn starch for her gravy at Thanksgiving, and she and my uncle bought me The Gluten-Free Asian Kitchen for Christmas. Visiting Kara in Seattle is heavenly, with numerous GF options (GF fish and chips!) and a more GF-friendly culture. Megan bent over backwards to get me GF options when I visited her in Las Vegas a year ago. Going without many fried foods and convenience foods has been better for my health. One of my new coworkers is GF, so I don’t have to explain anything in the office kitchen except to say, “Me, too!” I’ve been cooking even more at home, which is fine because I like to cook. I’ve learned so much about food. Thanks to resources such as Gluten-Free Girl, I have become a better cook by experimenting more in the kitchen and learning the science behind gluten and its substitutes. I bought a kitchen scale so I could precisely measure my millet, potato, teff, tapioca, buckwheat, rice, almond, and sorghum flours. I have been very, very grateful that dairy is not a problem.

Thank you to the people who have chimed in with support, and to those who have been patient with me as I have adjusted to and carried out this change in lifestyles! It’s gotten easier over the last 12 months, and I hope it keeps on that way.

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In Which the New Year Proves Most Promising

Hello all,

This is one of those “general life update” posts, with actual (mostly) good news!!

1.) I got a new job! Less than a month after my previous, beloved job ended, I began a new one with a local marketing agency. This isn’t a telecommuting position, so there is a lot to get used to. Not only do I have to learn the work itself, but I have to get re-accustomed to dressing appropriately, commuting, packing lunches, interacting with numerous coworkers face-to-face, and living on a new schedule. But I like my coworkers, and I will like the work itself once I learn it all and can work independently (i.e., without asking for help constantly). I miss working from home, and my social energy is drained much faster, but I think it will get better as I adjust–and it has made me appreciate living alone much more.

2.) My bearded dragon Aravis, known as “the scaley princess” by some of my friends, is alive and well. However, she is brumating for the season, so she hasn’t been doing much. After struggling to get her to eat and bask and poop normally, I decided to just let nature do what it wanted to do, and I’m letting her sleep as long as she wants. I’ve been waking her up every few days to weigh her and make her drink some water, and she is still healthy and adorable.

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Just like her mama

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3.) In the less-than-good news front, I had a thought of writing a tribute to Alan Rickman, one of my favorite, favorite actors, who sadly passed away last month. Instead, I am going to link to The Bloggess’ tribute, because she said it just as well, if not better, than I could. (The weekend after he passed, I gathered all my DVDs of his movies with the intention of watching them in order of preference, but I couldn’t bring myself to watch my favorite, Sense and Sensibility. I still can’t.)

4.) So I don’t have to end on that sad note, I wrote the first post in my new, monthly “creepy history” feature. I already have several more ideas for this month and the next, so I think this series can successfully continue for at least this year.

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Weird History, Part 1: Hair’s Lookin’ at You, Kid

Welcome to the first post of what I hope to be a monthly series about the unfamiliar, the unusual, or the downright creepy in human history! If you have an idea for a future post, feel free to leave a comment suggesting a person, event, or idea you think more people should hear about.


 

Photographic technology has advanced rapidly in the last two centuries, from the daguerreotype to the selfie stick. It’s cheap and easy to accumulate memories of loved ones. But in the Victorian age (mid and late 1800s), it was a little more complicated. How do you preserve a memory of your loved one to remember them by once they have passed on, if you can’t take a picture? You turn their hair into flowers, obviously.

Keeping a lock of a loved one’s hair was not unusual in centuries past–as anyone who has read or watched Sense and Sensibility could tell you. Nowadays, you might find a lock of a child’s hair in a “baby book.” For an organic substance, hair lasts quite a long time. And given that it comes right off a person’s head and maintains its distinct color after doing so, it’s a very personal and downright intimate possession.

OH THE SCANDAL

But the Victorians, as was their wont, took this idea to gaudy, sentimental, and creepy extremes.

History buffs who have toured historical homes decorated in a Victorian style may have encountered hair wreaths. These hirsute works of art involved twisting and weaving the locks into flowers and leaves, often with beads or pearls added, to be displayed in parlors as family heirlooms. Hair was donated by living family members, or gently snipped off the deceased, and the wreaths were crafted and added to over the years, becoming a symbol of family unity. And despite what you may have heard about the Victorians’ uptight, rigid ways, they were absolute suckers for sentiment.

Photo by Leila’s Hair Museum

Compared to today’s lifestyles, the Victorians were a bunch of death-obsessed weirdos–they made these things, they had elaborate mourning customs, and they loved to photograph corpses.

But of course, we must keep in mind that death was integrated into Victorians’ lives more than in modern times. Life expectancy was lower, and infant mortality was especially high. (Death was probably the only way you could get kids to sit still during the long exposures that old-timey cameras required.) Disease was more prevalent and doctors made house calls, so people died in their homes instead of hospitals. Without nursing homes or retirement communities, multiple generations shared a home and saw the “circle of life” at work. A child might be born in a bedroom that his grandmother would die in a week later. There were customs and rituals for death just as much as there were for births and weddings, as it was just as much a part of their lives. And making hair wreaths–a skillful art, however creepy–was a creative way to keep the memories of loved ones … alive.

The Victorians did not save hair art just for mourning. In the 19th century, hair jewelry was commonplace, embroidered like thread into brooches or braided into strands to make bracelets.

And if you’re really into that kind of thing, there is a museum dedicated to ‘hair art’ in Independence, MO. Be sure that you stop by before you head out on the Oregon Trail and donate your hair for loved ones to remember you by when you die of dysentery.

Posted in History, Weird history series | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

An American in London: Ten Tips for First-Timers

Planning a trip to London? Looking for a cheap alternative to an expensive guide book–or just want a quick lesson to help you avoid a faux pas? What better source to turn to than an American lady who has read a lot about England, considers herself an anglophile, and has been to London a whole two times?

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You can trust me. I MAKE MY OWN HOBNOBS.

1. Do not ask for the “bathroom” unless you literally intend to take a bath. Ask for the “toilets” or, if you just can’t say the word, the “ladies'” or “gents'” room.

2. Do carry around spare change (pence and pounds, not euro) for using the public toilets.

3. Do not sit down at a pub and expect waitstaff to serve. In a pub, you order at the bar.

4. Do ask for the “bill” and not the “check” at a restaurant. Tipping is not expected.

5. Do try to dress up as much as possible while remaining comfortable–assuming you will be doing a lot of walking. Black-tie is not necessary to enter the Tower of London, but try to look smart. I saw a man and his daughter get off the bus near St. Paul’s and they were in hoodies, shorts, and flip-flops, and I guessed they were Americans. This was confirmed when we walked by them and I heard their accents. If you don’t want your clothes to scream “TOURIST!!!!” on your behalf, put a little more effort into them.

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A good rule of thumb is, “Dignity, always dignity.”

6. Do not expect to experience “real” or “everyday” London in the most touristy areas (basically all of the West End). You’re unlikely even to hear the English language there, with so many overseas visitors. Clapham and Greenwich are two areas I saw on my last visit, and I would recommend them as nice detours off the beaten path.

7. Do get Indian food somewhere.

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Be sure to read the signs carefully before you step into any establishment.

8. Do not wear a fanny pack. But if you must (no, you mustn’t), don’t call it that. “Fanny” is common slang for “vagina” in Britain.

9. Do feel free to order coffee. The British don’t just drink tea–coffee and Starbucks locations are widely available. Just don’t order iced tea.

10. Do not bother to follow stopwalk signals–jaywalk at any opportunity. Just make sure you do look both ways (and mind the flow of traffic) because Londoners are not civilized drivers, and will run your ass over as quick as any New Yorker.

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They’re more like ‘guidelines’ anyway…

 

Have fun! And feel free to add your own tips in the comments.

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Movie Review: ‘In the Heart of the Sea,’ A Heartbreaking Whale Tale

I got back last night from a fantastic trip to Seattle. Seriously, it almost redeemed this crap-fest of a year. One of the things that Kara and I did during my visit (OK, it was more like “the reason for my visit”) was go to see In the Heart of the Sea, directed by Ron Howard and starring Chris Hemsworth.

The movie is wonderful. It is compelling and heartbreaking and gorgeous and haunting and worth the admission.

The movie does have its flaws. The first 20 minutes or so are a little rushed and choppy, and should have had more character development, which also would have enriched some later scenes. Chris Hemsworth’s New England accent is comically inept and distracting, at least at the start. Which is a shame especially because he does a decent generic American accent, as seen in his recent appearance on SNL. It’s when directors want him to get specific, making him do a Chicago accent (Blackhat) or a NE accent, that he obviously struggles.

Even with the lack of development, however, I don’t think the individual characters and the relationships between them are one-sided, dull, or unbelievable. Besides, the story is a.) about a group of people on a whaling ship, and b.) very much Man vs. Nature. Both the theme and the setting are broad and sweeping, so getting into the nuances of the characters is not necessary. Plus, a few details here and there (especially with Cillian Murphy’s character) do provide emotional depth.

The music and the cinematography are fabulous. I don’t really have anything specific to say about them; they’re breathtaking.

Of course, gorgeous cinematography is easy when Chris Hemsworth is in the shot.

Accent problems aside, the acting is great. Most of the story is told in flashback, between Brendan Gleeson as Thomas Nickerson and Ben Whishaw as Herman Melville. Whishaw especially does an excellent “19th century educated American” accent. His voiceover in the very beginning of the film gave me chills–his acting and his voice are beautiful. The scenes between Nickerson and Melville are comparatively few, but well-acted and carry some of the most emotional depth of the film.

Before seeing the movie, I was worried about the character of the whale, which is mostly CGI. But it was much more convincing CGI than, say, Jurassic World. The animal that inspired Moby Dick is very much its own character, and its appearances are neither too often nor too infrequent. Although it is certainly a destructive force in the film, it is not a full-blown villain. The film manages to be sympathetic both to the sailors who struggle to survive after losing their ship, and to the animals they hunt.

One of my favorite things about this film is its subtlety. It does not whitewash the horrors that the men experienced in their efforts to survive, but it does not beat you over the head with the details. It shows just enough to have an emotional impact, but it doesn’t marinate the audience in it. (This is something I hated about Twelve Years a Slave–it was so intent on showing the horrors of slavery that it was overpowering at the expense of the story, and went so far that it lost sympathy, causing the audience to get detached and go, “Okay, I get it, enough already!!!” In the Heart of the Sea does not go that far.)

I’d talk more about what I liked, but at that point I think I’d give too much away. I cried at the end. Like, a lot. It was great.

Posted in Travel, TV/Movies | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Flashback: South Dakota and the Old West

When I was driving from West to East in July 2014 after completing the Oregon Trail, I passed through South Dakota. I had plans to see Mount Rushmore and Wall Drug, but little else. The scenery was gorgeous, though I didn’t love it as much as I loved Montana. (I was excited to see a sign declaring an area one of the locations used for filming Starship Troopers, but not enough to stop and take a picture.) I was cruising I-90, having already seen Mt. R. and Wall, when I saw signs for something called “1880 Town.” After some indecision over the $12 admission fee (which I later decided was a bit too much to be worth it), I paid and went in.

Much like 2013’s trip to the country village in Mumford, NY, this “pioneer town” is a mix of original 19th-century buildings moved to the site and period-themed structures built on the site. Some buildings were originally sets for a Western movie.

This is one of the many places out West that was (or would have been) utterly charming and delightful 40+ years ago, when family road trips were a cultural staple and Americans were more easily entertained. I could imagine a family rolling along the highway in their big Buick, stopping for a picnic and to stretch their legs by playing a non-PC game of “Cowboys and Indians.”

Now, however, it’s just a little creepy.

 

Good place to get rid of evidence

Old trunk for hiding corpses until they can be properly disposed of

*cue creepy children singing*

Probably all full of dead tourists

I hope the pictures sufficiently convey how “Tetanus Town” would have been a more suitable name. Most of the buildings are in a state of disarray at best and moderate decay at worst. Rusty nails and splintering wood jut out everywhere, rickety stairs are left open for climbing, probably-lead-based paint is peeling, and borderline-feral cats roam the property.

Probably being fed the remains of tourists who overstayed their welcome

The “best” part is that there are equally run-down mannequins posed in some of the buildings. I first discovered this in the “jail house,” when I had a heart attack after seeing a pair of legs sticking out from under a sheet on the bed. I didn’t get a picture–I was too creeped out–but just look through these bars and imagine you see a pair of legs.

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The second mannequin jump-scare occurred when I turned around the corner in the old hotel (one of the original buildings) and saw this:

SITTING BULL WAITS PATIENTLY TO EAT YOUR SOUL

To be fair, there are some cool parts in the old hotel.

Still … if it wasn’t for the fact that it was a beautiful day, and that there were other tourists present (including families), I would be a lot more surprised that I came out alive.

As capitalism would have it, the building in the best condition is the one that sells stuff: the saloon/hotel where you can buy sarsaparilla at the bar and rent 1880s-esque costumes for the day for whatever twisted photo ops you desire. They also have actual, local entertainment show up occasionally.

I think my favorite part of the saloon was exploring the upstairs, where I found a rather … disreputable-looking room …

Another “feature” of 1880 Town is that it boasts the largest collection of Dances With Wolves memorabilia. I’ve never seen that movie, but it was kind of cool to see Kevin Costner’s chair.

They even have the mules used in the movie (so they claim).

They also had a lot of random historical stuff, much of it of local interest.

Artifacts used by gold prospectors in the Black Hills

Memorabilia from Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show

All right, well … maybe it was worth it after all. It was definitely one of the more enjoyable parts of the West-to-East leg of my journey.

Posted in History, Road Trip, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Thoughts From a 30-Year-Old Christian Single

It has been an extraordinarily challenging year, which is also a personal understatement of the year. And yes, I think is safe to say that ¾ of the way through. I keep wanting to post a personal update, but there have been so many ups and downs that to take time to write about it is like trying to pull over into a rest area in a car without brakes going 90 MPH. Every time I think I have something to talk about, it changes.

It also doesn’t help that I have had very little writing motivation lately. A symptom of depression is a loss of interest in hobbies, etc., and that one has hit me big time this year—with occasional respites and bursts of creativity.

One of the more constant difficulties has been singleness. Somehow I thought it would get easier by now—though, to be honest, I also thought I’d be not single by now. As with everything else in life, there are ups and downs. There are days when I’m grateful to be single, and days when I don’t care one way or another. But it feels like the low, needy, difficult times get lower and more difficult, and the grateful times grow fewer.

Perhaps one of the reasons why I thought it would be easier to be single as I got older is because one of the many lies I have internalized over the years (unfortunately, very much encouraged by many churches and Christian authors) is that God will not “bestow” the right man upon my life until I achieve a zen-like state of perfect contentment and fulfillment. Our fulfillment does come from Christ, but complete contentment cannot—or should not—be achieved in this life.

The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and oppose an obstacle to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with our friends, a bathe or a football match, have no such tendency. Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.

~ C.S. Lewis, “The Problem of Pain”

And as someone for whom satisfaction is not in her nature, I am never going to reach that point in this life, at least not for longer than 10 minutes. It’s pointless to strive for a certain “state” just to gain a reward. The Christian life is not a videogame, focused on achieving specific goals and gaining points. The best I can do is follow God one moment at a time, focusing on what I can and ought to do in the present.

The other thing that makes it more difficult to be single at a post-twenties age is the loss of single friends. No, they haven’t died—although sometimes it seems that way, for how little contact there can be. They do tend to disappear into Married World, spending the vast majority of their social time with other couples, or their significant other’s friends and family, and where they primarily discuss having (or not having) kids, and buying houses.

It’s not that I no longer value them as friends, but it is hard to stay involved in each others’ lives. It is also difficult because so often “the marrieds” tend to forget what singleness is like: the difficulties of meeting people, the awkwardness of being around overly affectionate couples and being a third wheel, not readily having another person to pick up the slack in daily life. Single people also are often expected to show nothing but pure, unadulterated delight for the married/ engaged/ pregnant friend, and to never ever ever let there be any hint that, mixed in with the single person’s very real happiness for their friend, there might be a little pain as well. And of course, the difficulty of this happening as one gets older is in seeing it happen again…and again…and again…all to other people—friends, family, celebrities—and never to oneself.

If this comes across as an angry, bitter screed, that is really not my intent. I just want to be genuine in describing some of the things I’ve struggled with, and maybe reach out in the hopes that someone else might connect with it.

Of course, I still have my single friends—quite a few of them, too, when I think about it. Each of them are also valuable jewels in my life, and certainly helpful in the most difficult and lonely times. Something I have learned from all of them is that there’s no “reason” why any of us are single—by which I mean, there’s nothing wrong with any of us. At least that means I don’t have to waste my time with thoughts like, “What’s wrong with me?” when it comes to being single. Because the answer is “Nothing.” Being single (or not single) isn’t about that.

Still … that doesn’t mean being single doesn’t absolutely suck sometimes.

Disclaimer: This post may tempt some people to offer advice, such as how to meet guys or how to deal with the lower points of singleness. This post is mainly meant to vent and offer sympathy for others in a similar situation, not a request for advice. At this point in my life, just like with my insomnia, I’ve just about heard it all before.

Posted in Single | Tagged , , , , , | 11 Comments