things that make me happy right now: gluten-free care packages.

A week of my favorite things . . .

I am overjoyed by the number of people who learned about my new, gluten-free predicament, and have sent me care packages.  Fun care packages!  Yummy care packages!  Full of things I can’t find here: like rice cakes and xanthum gum and GF all-purpose flour.  With a cookie mix or chocolate cake mix thrown in for good measure.

Priya is simply astounded by the influx.  She said, “You have some very good friends!”

Do I ever!

It’s humbling, to be sure.

2012 has been a year of lows in the food department . . . until these last couple weeks when we hit the jackpot.  Now I can pull out my KitchenAid mixer and voltage transformer (thank you Palmetto PresWIC friends!), a GF bread mix and a couple of eggs, and in a little over an hour we have a loaf of breading baking golden in the oven.

We can have peanut-butter-and-honey sandwiches and toast, banana bread and spaghetti.  When a friend came over on Saturday morning, I whipped up a batch of gluten-free chocolate chip scones to go with our coffee, and I watched her eyes widen with surprise over their deliciousness.  I told her how happy baking makes me and how hard it has been giving it up these past two months.

And now, at last!  Baked goods!  Comfort food!

I’m continuing to feel great on my GF diet, and can even add back some dairy now and then and feel fine.

And guess what: Judah loves the GF bread so much he now refuses to eat normal bread!  Just wait: he’ll turn into a health nut yet. 🙂

So thanks for spoiling us.  I love it.  My family loves it.  It is a huge blessing.

oak hill farm.

This past weekend, David and I escaped for a birthday overnight at Oak Hill Farm.  John, Alison, and the boys were so sweet to offer to keep Judah and Amie for us.  On Friday morning, we dropped the kids off, stopped for breakfast, then drove the hour-and-a-half to the farm.  Here is my journal entry from Saturday . . .

David and I are wrapping up our overnight visit to Oak Hill Farm.

It is not exactly what I expected when we made our plans to come, but it has turned out to be a lovely experience.

This farm is a little haven, an hour outside of our city, tucked away in the rocky, rolling hills.  Oak Hill farm is beautiful in a rugged way.  The dirt is red and dry, but there is plenty of greenery too.  Palm trees and tamarind, hibiscus in flaming oranges and bougainvillea in deep pinks.  A thin path winds through the trees around the farm, through rows of lettuce and cabbage, through grape fines and tiny chili-pepper plants.  Of the ten-acre property, four acres are cultivated and Praveen and Meera have planted five hundred trees.

The rooms are small and clean with no frills.  The walls are thin, so that we could hear baby Neil crying next door loud and clear in the night.  Not necessarily a purely romantic setting.

Since it’s a home stay (which is basically the Indian version of a B&B), we’re treated like family, which means there’s not so much privacy.  At first it was a little off-putting for me, the introvert, who just wanted a quiet, anonymous getaway with my husband.

But the people are so dear.  Praveen and Meera, who in their early sixties perhaps, had this farm built eight years ago, with the plan of making it a home stay.  They take guests on the weekends, which helps pay for the cost of the piece of land and sprawling, breezy home.  They split their week days between farming the land and their flat in the city.

Besides our hosts, there is one other young family staying here: Sunil and Shailly and their one-year-old son, Neil.  We instantly hit it off with them.  Shailly is Indian-Canadian, and moved here when she married Sunil several years ago.  She is a licensed chiropractor in Canada and California, and is a quintessential west-coaster.  I am no west-coaster myself (if only I could be so cool), but it still feels like home to chat with her.

I can’t decide whether the best feature of Oak Hill is the tranquil, happy land, or the food.  All of the produce is grown right here and made into spectacular dishes, jams, puddings, and chutneys.  For meat and bread, Praveen and Meera comb the city for the finest sources, and you can tell.  The food is spectacular, and Meera’s famous for it.

We got a phone call from Praveen earlier this week asking whether we have any food allergies.  David told him about my gluten allergy, and when we showed up here, we were astounded by the care Meera took to cook lots of food that I can enjoy.  She showed us her new gluten-free/dairy-free cook book she bought especially for the occasion.

Our stay has revolved around eating.  We sat down for a full Indian lunch at 1:30 yesterday on the balcony overlooking the rolling hills.  Two kinds of rice, dals, vegetable coconut curry, Brussels sprouts, fried searfish, pickled chutneys, and a stack of chapatti for the wheat-eaters.  And fresh-squeezed ginger lime juice.

After a long afternoon that involved a vigorous hike for David, and writing and a nap for me, and a serve-yourself tea time buffet, we all gathered for an 8:30 candlelit dinner here on the balcony.   Sunil and Shailly surprised me with a bottle of wine to celebrate my 30th birthday, and I was so touched.  Dinner was western-style—lots of fresh-grown veggies, boiled potatoes, and the most tender steak fillets I’ve tasted in South Asia.

Now it’s late morning, and my stomach is still full from the huge breakfast spread.  Dosa and dal and coconut chutney.  Scrambled eggs made with coconut milk.  Bread and croissants and four kinds of homemade jam.  Tea and coffee.  David and I exchanged phone numbers with our new friends, and spread out on the table with laptops and books for a quiet morning.

And because it’s a home stay it’s not really quiet at all, but I’m finding now that I enjoy that too.  I love that I can take my laptop into the kitchen and pester Meera with my hundred-questions about her cooking.  She gladly shares her recipes and gives me priceless tips like how to keep my dal from turning out too watery, that Kerala red rice is the healthiest for everyday eating, and where to find rice crackers and gluten-free pasta.

Our getaway called for a little flexibility and an adjustment of expectations, but we’ve gained new friends and a beautiful memory.  We will certainly come again, and next time we’ll bring the kids!

gluten-free week.

My morning cup of Rwandan coffee with natural cane sugar and coconut milk (do I sound like an obnoxious health nut yet??).  And my sweet niece, Lina, who Judah and Amie alternately introduce to friends as their sister and their daughter.

I apologize for yet another boring post on my diet.  I promise I won’t do this forever, but I want to keep a record of it.

I have been two-and-a-half weeks gluten-free, and there has been enough change in my health that I’m ready for a long-term commitment.  I never want to go back.

The cravings haven’t been as bad as I expected.  What I crave most is sugar, since I’m avoiding refined sugar right now.  I didn’t realize how much of an addict I am, but sometimes I want sugar so bad I could scream.  The good news is that it makes me want to eat a lot more fruit than I ever have in my life.

It hasn’t all been rosy these past couple of weeks.  There has been a huge difference overall, mainly in my energy level, and the disappearance of that heavy, draggy feeling in my limbs.

I am still taking my allergy meds and my Lexapro, at least for the next six months.  My headaches have still been off-and-on.  One day it was almost back to migraine status.

So this weekend I also went off dairy, at the advice of some websites and friends.  And I feel still more better.  The headaches are gone again and I feel ready to take on the world (or at least India).

When he came home from Rwanda, David said I was a different person.

Don’t get me wrong . . . I’m the same old sinner who has bursts of temper and complains to her husband and gets irritable with her kids.

But, I guess I just didn’t realize how big of a difference it makes in my whole outlook on life to feel good physically.

So.  We have talked, and David is ready to make our home gluten-free.  This week is the Big Purge.

Maybe it’s not absolutely necessary, but it will make my life a whole lot easier.  There is danger of cross-contamination from crumbs and dishes and sharing drinking glasses.  Which, you can imagine with young children how hard that is to control.  And Lilly does a lot of cooking and working in the kitchen and doesn’t get the whole allergy concept, so it is just better to keep gluten away.

Some of you have asked: “Do you think you actually have Celiac disease, or just a gluten intolerance?”

And to that I would say, I don’t know.  I’m guessing I don’t have Celiac, because that is a serious auto-immune disease, and let’s face it, my symptoms aren’t all that bad.  But I’m okay with not knowing.  What I do know is that I feel a ton better now.  The kids and I can get tested for Celiac when we go home in September, which we might do.  But I know that in order to take the test we’ll have to go on a gluten-binge for two weeks prior, and I’m just not sure I can put my body through that.

David read an article last night saying that going gluten-free is a fad in the States right now.  That only about one percent of the population tests positive for Celiac, but other people just somehow “feel better about themselves” by going gluten-free.  And that makes me laugh.  I guess it could be true.  But if it’s a fad that takes away my migraines and anxiety and exhaustion, I’m happy to jump on the bandwagon.

In all honesty though, this past week has been really hard.  I think the honeymoon stage ended and I was faced with the reality of a huge lifestyle change while raising a family in a developing country.  Yikes.  There has been lots of tears.  Lots of, “Why, God??”

But we have been praying, and He has been taking good care of me.  So many of you have encouraged me, and are sending me websites and recipes and care packages of gluten-free baking ingredients I can’t find here.

A friend from our church back home got me a bread machine!  And the women’s ministry in our presbytery is giving money to get me more supplies and a standing mixer!

These things are huge.  Not necessary to survival, I know.  But they will make life so much easier when I’m suddenly the only source of bread and baked goods for my family.

Our eating is pretty simple these days.  But it is so fun to look ahead to the time we can eat pizza dough and pancakes and muffins again.  To the time I can serve our guests yummy, homemade gluten-free treats and surprise them with how good it tastes.

So thanks so much for all your support and prayers!

I turn thirty years old next week, and starting to become healthy is the best 30th birthday gift I could ask for!

one week gluten-free.

It’s been just over a week of my gluten-free diet.  When I started last Friday, friends said I might feel better in a couple days.  Well on Day 2, I was in the depths of despair because there was no change.

Okay, so I’m kind of an impatient person.

But on Day 3 (the day David left for Rwanda), there was a definite change.  I still had my headache, but something was different.  I couldn’t put my finger on it exactly but throughout the day, I thought, Wow, I feel good.

On Day 4 I woke up and, laying in bed, instantly knew something was different.

I had no headache.

At all.

At the risk of being over-dramatic … do you know the last time that has happened?  I don’t know.  Sometime before college I’m sure.  So, over ten years ago.  Maybe more.

I felt euphoric all day long.  And that’s when I became sold on my gluten-free diet.

David has been away for 7 days now.  My grandfather died this week.  I’m homesick.  And I’m constantly having to think about food and to figure out what I can eat and what I can’t.  But, with all of that: I have not had one episode of anxiety or depression this entire week.  Not one!

Obviously, I’ve been reading a ton of websites/articles.  And here are the list of Celiac symptoms I have or have had in the past year (most for several years):

Chronic allergies/upper respiratory issues
GI issues (diagnosed as IBS six years ago)
Feeling draggy and “sick all over”
Weight Loss
Tingling/Numbness in arms and legs.

I have always felt like I have poor health in general, and couldn’t figure out why, but I think that our move overseas last year pushed it to a crisis.  I read that a gluten allergy can appear or worsen under high stress.

I should say here that my Mom gave me an article on Celiac disease back before Judah was born.  But I guess either I wasn’t ready to hear it, or didn’t feel like my symptoms fit (sorry, Mom!).

So, the gluten-free diet.  Yeah, it’s kind of a pain.  But, I just reached a point where I said: “I am willing to do anything in order to feel better.”  When I think about it that way, I don’t even want bread and donuts and muffins anymore.  It also helped a ton when I learned that really a gluten-free diet is really just a healthy diet.  It’s better anyway for me to eat whole foods and eat lots of fruits, veggies, and to avoid processed foods.  So somehow it helps me psychologically to think less “diet” and more “eating healthy.”

Right now I am still in the process of figuring out what is okay and what isn’t.  I am reading ingredient-lists and learning all of the terms that indicate gluten and have messed up a couple of times–and my headaches have come right back.

Also, heart-breakingly, I am noticing a pattern with headaches after I’ve eaten sugar: I start to feel sick again.

Gluten is hard enough … but sugar?  Come on.

So, for the time being I’m trying to be mostly sugar free (at least all refined sugar) too.  It may just be a result of my body being so sick, and I’m hoping after it heals I can re-introduce sugar to some extent.

I miss baking.  A ton.  And here in South Asia, few people know what gluten is, so there are no gluten-free sections in the supermarket.  So I am trying to reassemble my baking ingredients on my own, which is a whole lot of work.  Our British friends in the mountains both have gluten allergies, and have been giving me ideas of ingredients we can find here that I can substitute in the gluten-free websites:

It’s taken five days and seven grocery stores so far, but I will make that first loaf of gluten-free bread someday!  I can’t wait.

The other thing I will miss like crazy–especially when David returns–is eating out.  Especially right now it’s just too risky, unless we go to an Indian restaurant.  But when we go on dates I always prefer my “comfort food”–Italian, American, etc.  Oh well.

Other than eating out at Western restaurants and baking and snacks, it is fairly easy to be gluten-free.  There are great fruits and veggies fresh year-round, and South Asians rarely use preservatives in their food.  Especially here in the south, rice is served with every meal, so I can skip the flat-breads.  Although . . . on Monday, Ammara is coming over to teach Lilly and me how to make gluten-free chapatti!

From what I’ve read, gluten allergies are hereditary, so there is a good chance Judah and Ams have one or will develop it.  Therefore, I want to move toward making our home gluten-free over time.

Pretty much the first thing people say to me when I tell them I am gluten free is: “I am so sorry.”

But!  I am not sorry!  I am so very, very relieved and happy.  After years of thinking I must be going crazy–of going to doctor after doctor and saying “I’m sick,” of having them take tests and then say: “No, you’re not”–finally there is an answer.  Thanks for praying for me.

You know what makes me happier than anything else?  It is not this country that’s making me sick.

I feel so, so grateful for the outpouring of emails, facebook messages, phone calls, articles and websites sent from all the people in my life who want to help.  And, I am amazed and touched by our teammates and friends here, who haven’t given me a hard time or even missed a beat, but are all learning to identify gluten and help me enjoy gluten-free meals when we’re together.