Gluten Free Adjustment

I kicked gluten out of my house about 4 months ago. It still shows up on occasion (like at Thanksgiving, for a big shared meal), but other than that, I’ve been gluten free. Or at least, I’ve stopped BUYING anything with gluten in it.

I’ve not always been super good at not EATING anything with gluten. Sometimes it’s things I don’t even think about, like making pound cake for a friend and licking the spoon, only to have horrendous stomach trouble for the rest of the day. Other times I start eating something – like fried mozzarella sticks – only to realize halfway through the first one that it’s been breaded and fried. (And then have horrendous stomach trouble for the rest of the day, and sometimes the next two days as well.) Or, at the beginning, deciding I didn’t give a flying f-sharp and eating a cupcake (only go have horrendous… well, you know).

This last week I decided, since I’d been doing so well, to try a normal beer and see if I was ok. I’m not sure why I thought I would be, as beer is fermented barley mash, and barley contains gluten, but I love beer… so I tried.  Been sick for two days too. No more beer for me, unless it’s sorghum beer.

I’ve found that I don’t really crave a lot of things I thought I’d miss, like pasta (easy enough to make rice or rice pasta instead) or breakfast cereal (GF oatmeal woo!), or even cookies, which make up pretty easily with gluten free flours. And after getting really sick from most of those things, I find they’ve lost a lot of their appeal.

Bread, however, I can’t get away from. I love bread. I spent years getting good at making yeast breads.

And now I’m having to really think about this whole food allergy thing, and how I will never be able to eat those breads again.

Which is kind of huge.

I’ve had some decent gluten free breads too. They’re just not the same as wheat bread. They taste good; they have good texture… but they are different. And anyone who tells you otherwise is lying.

When I started out this GF thing, it was all an experiment, a sort of side strategy to help with my joint pain and with my tummy troubles that my arthritis doctor said I should do for 3 months to see if it’d help. While I didn’t think it’d do much, I figured I’d at least try. I got past the freak out pretty quickly (about a week of freaking out, really), but it was always “I can do this for 3 months”. Even when I felt better, when I was finally having a normal relationship with my digestion* for the first time in my adult life, it was still “I can do this for 3 months”.

But it’s been three months, and I’m still doing it. And if my little beer experiment means much of anything, I’m going to still be doing it three months from now. And the three months after that.

I know I have it easy, that 10 years ago there was almost no support for people who couldn’t process wheat, barley, rye, and spelt. On the other hand, there’s a big perception that gluten intolerance is the latest fad diet**, and so many restaurants don’t take it seriously. Heck, for awhile I didn’t even take it seriously.

Three months later and I definitely take it seriously. I know what I can eat at restaurants (Asian and Mexican foods are my staples for eating out), and I know I have to plan in advance if I’m going to be able to eat on my lunch break and not have to eat noodle soup every day from the local Vietnamese place. I know where I can shop in the grocery store and what parts of the store I don’t even have to visit anymore.

As much as I’ve learned, though, I’m still feeling like I’m adjusting to a totally new way of food. After all, “never” is kind of a long time to think about.

*For the record, it’s really nice not to have to plan my errands around which stores I visit after eating, and whether they have bathrooms I can tolerate.
**It’s a fad diet I kind of understand. For a lot of people giving up Gluten means giving up all processed foods and eating more fresh vegetables and lean protein – a change that would make just about anyone feel better if they’ve been eating a lot of processed junk. That said, there’s a difference between “feeling better” and the kind of gastric distress someone with an actual gluten intolerance (or a systemic histamine allergic reaction type allergy) will have.

House and Home

Three years ago this week, SSH and I started looking for our house. We knew we needed to move, as Hurricane Ike had well demonstrated the struggles our more coastal area would have with any kind of tropical storm, and we knew that around the first of the year we’d be able to start really looking for a home. It was a learning time for both of us, filled with books about houses, phone calls to family members, internet house listings and house-hunting programs on TV.

Something I didn’t expect to be so significant about being in a house, versus an apartment, was the level of “ours-ness” that would come about as we both added our own style to the house and as we changed with it through the seasons. I can’t speak for SSH, but setting up the house for the holidays this year brought back memories of our last two holiday seasons here, and how things are so different for us now than they were three years ago, or two years ago, or even last year.

The more memories we have here, and the more time we spend, plus the work we’ve put into making this place ours – the house feels more and more like a reflection of us. The gardens, especially, make me feel plugged into this little chunk of land with our house on it.

Decorating for the holidays, I realized that there are some decorations that no longer fit anymore, and others that I may not have put out in the past that seem to fit better now.

The out of place things stick out more than they used to, since I feel so settled in.

I am, at my core, a homebody. I enjoy traveling to new places, but I don’t have the wanderlust, the sense of adventure that some of my other family members seem to have. I like my home, and being able to return to that home is one of the highlights of a long trip. The safety and security of my own place is something that I treasure, especially during the winter months.

Seeing the house decorated for the winter holidays only reinforces how much at home I feel here, and how thankful I am to have it.

 

For the Love of the Game

I come from a family of people who love baseball. My grandfather is a good Italian boy from the Bronx, and so baseball was a huge part of his youth. He passed that love down to my father (and my mom), and so I grew up watching the Yankees.

Disclaimer: yes, I am a Yankees fan. I am from a family in New York and New Jersey, and there is nothing I can do about that. I am also a Rangers fan, and most recently an Astros fan (poor Disastros…) If you can’t stomach the idea of someone being a Yankees fan regardless of whether they win or lose, or whether A-Rod is a giant overpaid dud or Jeter is a class act, then this isn’t the post for you. I’m very sorry. (I’m not.)

Some of my most vivid memories as a child revolve around baseball, from going to the Rangers games every 4th of July to watching my little brother’s games in Little League.

We often went to Trenton Thunder games when I still lived in New Jersey (The Thunder is a AA Yankees farm team). At one game, when I was there with my brother, my dad, and my grandfather, we’d managed to convince someone to get a giant, leg-sized Coke to share. Then we all stood up for the National Anthem. Then we sat down. My grandfather did not remember setting the giant, leg-sized Coke on the seat when he stood up. He remembered only after he sat on it, flattening it spectacularly, and getting everyone on our bench rather successfully soggy and sticky.

At another Rangers game, one night when they were playing the Yankees, my father brought a broom and wore his Yankees jersey (My father occasionally is dubious on his levels of common sense). He intended to swing his broom around, yelling about a sweep, because the Yankees had won the first 2 of 3 games in that series. Instead, the Rangers won, and my mom made him sweep up peanuts.

My own attempts to play ball ended rather dramatically – my first practice in softball as a 4th grader I got hit in the face twice and hit in the back once, and I never went back. Other than enjoying a good game of catch in the back yard, I have no interest in actually PLAYING Baseball – but I still love it. I love watching it, even on TV (though I’d much rather be at the game). I love reading about it, following trades and keeping up with obscure stats (though I still don’t understand all the nuances, but I’m not sure ANYONE really does…).

The most recent thing coming out of baseball makes me sad though – my Astros are going to be forced to move from the National League (Central) to the American League (West). On one hand, this means little more than they’ll be the Rangers punching bag instead of the Cardinals punching bag for awhile. On the other hand, this means designated hitters.

It seems like such a little thing. In the National League, pitchers must bat like every other player. In the American League, there are players – Designated Hitters – who are there specifically to bat in the Pitcher’s spot in the lineup.

That said, there’s something endearing about the pitchers who really do put it all out there, swing for the fences, and run the bases with the rest of their team. They’re willing to contribute to their own cause, as it were.

As well, the designated hitter is, essentially, a one trick pony. The only thing a DH does is hit – he doesn’t have to be competent in a fielding position. (Same for the pitcher, but a pitcher is such a key part of a game that they still are essential parts of the team.) You also end up with a pretty significant change in stats and things like run generation, as pitchers aren’t generally known for being stellar at the plate. It also changes the pitching strategy, as you don’t have to worry about a tired pitcher at the plate in your lineup.

Still, all that aside, I just really like having pitchers swing the bat. It’s just… part of what I expect from my Astros. Even if I call them the disAstros. Because really, they’re absolutely terrible.

I’ll still be an Astros fan, if and when they move to the AL. And I’ll still be a Yankees fan, even if they don’t make their pitchers bat. But it’s one of those little things that I’ve come to expect as a Houston Astros fan that I wish they’d make part of ALL baseball.

You know, like peanuts and beer. And cola the size of your leg.

Board Games

Confession time.

I don’t really like board games.

Or card games either, for that matter. Or really, “games” in general. Not even Charades. Or Dominos.

I didn’t much like them as a kid, and I still don’t much like them as an adult. I’m not entirely sure why, considering how much fun people seem to have while playing them, but I just… don’t really have that much fun. It’s not that I don’t learn quickly (I do, and there are plenty of games with minimal rules) or that I don’t like losing. Admittedly, as a kid I was super competitive, and so is my family, and there were a few major fights about my not wanting to play and being called a party pooper as a teenager and otherwise being badgered/guilted into playing (ostensibly because I was “fun” and people “liked playing with me” but that’s neither here nor there).

I just don’t really like board games.

This is complicated because I play D&D, as any nights that we don’t actually play our campaign end up as board game nights – which I totally understand. Really what else are people to do as a get together? Watch movies? I have the Locke Lamora problem with movies too (made worse when I’m with my D&D group because D&D can often tread VERY close to triggery situations), so I’m kind of a downer when it comes to movie nights.

Which basically means I’m a big ol’ boring stick-in-the-mud.

There are a few games that I will tolerate, and some that I’ve even enjoyed playing. They’re usually light hearted, rules-light games that don’t require much effort, or they’re cooperative games where you’re playing as a group instead of against each other.

Games I Will Occasionally Play (Usually Half Heartedly):

  • Munchkin (in any of its incarnations)
  • Fluxx (in any of ITS incarnations)
  • Ninja Burger (if I can put up with the rules)
  • Shadows over Camelot (hopefully without the traitor, but I’ll deal)

I’ve played Arkham Horror, but to be honest, I’m not much of a candidate for the horror genre in general, and even that stupid board game gave me weird dreams. Yes, I’m a carebear.

I also don’t like those games where you have to guess embarrassing things about other people. I’ll put up with a few of them (usually the kind where your friends come up with answers and you pick between them), but generally mind-reader games kind of wig me out.

I feel mostly the same way about playing group/competitive video games, like rock band or any of the –cart games for consoles. Love being around, but have absolutely NO interest whatsoever in playing.

That said, I have NO problem being around while OTHER people play board games. In fact, I usually have a very good time on board game nights, happily not playing, knitting, and drinking a glass of wine. I can get up and do other things whenever I need to, if people get too intense, I can step away without slowing up the game because it’s my turn, and I still get to enjoy the social-group-ness of getting together with people I like who are also geeky/nerdy.

But I still don’t like actually playing. Thankfully most of our group is willing to put up with that particular quirk (and all the other ones…) because they seem to like my company.

Though I still feel a odd as fish.

Blogging Mindfully

If I blogger deletes a post draft, can they still learn from it?

One of the bits of guidance often given to new meditators, particularly those working through Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (or, like me, Mindfulness Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) is that whenever you feel the urge to talk to someone about meditation, you should shut up and go meditate.

Which makes for really lousy blog posts.

But I think the spirit of that advice is that it’s better to be mindful and meditate than it is to talk about it. And it’s easy to fall into the trap of talking more about meditation than actually DOING meditation.

That said, I think there’s something gained from reflection as well. (This is not me arguing with Dr. Kabat-Zinn. This is me being a blogger and liking expressing thoughts in writing.)

I’m not very good at meditating though. In the last year that I’ve been working through this therapy and mental-process-adjustment, I’ve not attained any sort of amazing breakthroughs. In fact, about the only thing I’ve attained is better awareness of how my brain works – watching your thoughts can be a pretty amazing experience, especially when you deal with TraumaBrain and other vestiges of mental illness.

That awareness DOES help with self-compassion though. It’s a learning process, and my mental judge is … extremely vocal. And not keen on shutting up. But slowly through the meditation practice (and it is a practice), I’ve learned to be at least aware of my self-judgment more than I used to be, and being aware of that mental voice lets me be more kind to myself about how my brain functions.

It’s all about little victories, and small steps in the right direction. I’ve had to work on accepting wherever I am on a given day, accepting what kind of focus I have or don’t have, and just being mindful and kind in this moment. The Gurus say there’s no such thing as bad meditation – only today’s meditation. I’m still working on taking their word for it.

And really, meditation is not easy, but it’s also so very simple it’s frustrating how hard it can be. (That’s a confusing sentence.)

I really encourage giving it a try though, just for a few minutes, if you find yourself in a stressful situation. Ok, WHEN you find yourself in a stressful situation.

Try the following (done easily in a desk chair, in the parking lot, in the bathroom, wherever):

Stop what you’re doing, sit back comfortably (straight spine, but not forced), and take three slow, deep breaths. With each breath think to yourself “Breathing in, I see myself at peace” and “Breathing out, I am relaxed” – that’ll give your mind something to chew on while the oxygen gets to your brain and slows down your central nervous system.

I keep a post it note on my computer that says “Stop. Breathe. Be here now.” to help me remember to ground myself in this present moment and slow down. Bad and stressful things are usually related to worry about the future or fretting about the past – very rarely is there a problem in THIS exact moment. (Even, or especially, worry about money. For the next 2 minutes, you can let go of worries about money.)

Even just little snippets of meditation, little snippets of being truly HERE in the present moment, can make a big difference. You’ll slow down your nerves, be more alert and refreshed, and be better able to handle the stresses of life. Think of them as fun-size Mindful Moments – just the right size for a mid-day stress-relieving mental snack.

And now, since I’ve talked the talk for 650 words or so on the subject of meditation, it’s time for me to go walk the walk.

Or sit the sit, as the case may be.

Making Mandalas

Crossposted from the Deadly Divas

Everyone has their own way of expressing emotion, of managing anxiety.

A year or so ago, when I was digging through reviews of various fountain pens, I stumbled across a blog called Spiritual Evolution of the Bean, by artist Stephanie Smith. She teaches the creation of mandalas as art and personal expression, and after following her instructions and making a few, I was totally hooked.

What is a mandala? Well, that depends. In the Buddhist and Hindu traditions, mandalas may be employed for focusing attention of aspirants and adepts, as a spiritual teaching tool, for establishing a sacred space, and as an aid to meditation and trance induction.*Any concentric diagram can be a mandala, though the most traditional mandalas are a circle circumscribed with a square.

For me, mandalas are a way of drawing that starts small and works concentrically outward, free of judgment, thinking, or really planning out what I want to do. They are a form of focused mindfulness, of being completely in the moment and allowing myself to express whatever comes to my mind (with no judgment).


How do you make one?

To create a mandala, you must first release all judgments about your ability to aesthetically put pen to paper. Throw those thoughts out the window because no one has to ever see it but you, (unless you choose to share it) and it’s totally your prerogative to destroy it once completed. – Stephanie Smith

After that, you take a piece of paper and a writing implement of some kind, and, starting in the middle, you work out in concentric circles, allowing your subconscious or unconscious mind to pick patterns at random. There is no wrong choice as long as you make simple geometric shapes repeated around the circle. You can use words, or not, but repeated ones seem to work better (like the repetition of the phrase “A thought can be changed” – kind of like a visual mantra).

Stephanie Smith explains the process much better than I ever could in two of her posts on the subject: Oh the Mandala and Mandala Process Continues (Go read them, I’ll be here when you get back)

I also highly recommend the following YouTube video. It’s a different style of mandala, but then, it’s a different person, and each person will tend toward slightly different patterns and styles.

YouTube – How to Grow a Mandala

Looking at other mandala art (and “Zentangles”, which are the same principle) for ideas of patterns is a lot of fun too, but the ultimate goal is making art, not looking at it. Spontaneous art, at that. Sometimes I plan out colors (or use the colors that someone requests), but usually I just find some markers that I like and go with it. All the ones you see pictured are made with prismacolor markers and black and white gel pens. Literally ANY media will work. Pencil, crayons, ballpoint pen, whatever.

Remember, the ultimate goal here is to let go of the conscious part of your brain that says you can or can’t do art. There is no “wrong” mandala. It might be uneven, or you might not like the colors overall when you’re done, but that doesn’t matter. And really, when you finish one, only you decide what to do with it – whether you save it, throw it away, frame it, or just keep a whole running notebook, it doesn’t matter. What matters is the process of doing it, the careful progression of repeated shapes around a circle. (I make lots, and they all provide relief of anxiety and help me feel calmer and more relaxed, but only a few of them end up on the internet or in frames.)

So the next time you find yourself bored, perhaps you’ll grab a piece of paper and doodle a mandala.

I’ve found them to be addicting, and now keep a little notebook with me for that purpose (mostly because my bills started getting mandala doodles on the return envelopes after awhile). They’re very good for keeping my brain busy in stressful situations, and also for filling in dead time while I’m waiting around for an appointment.

And sometimes they turn out quite pretty at the end.

*From Wikipedia