Saturday, March 29, 2014

How I struggle with the gluten free diet

Over the years I’ve seen many people question the gluten free diet and even make jokes. I did an internet search. I searched for sugar-free/diabetic jokes and gluten-free jokes. While I found pages and pages of jokes about gluten-free, I found very few about sugar-free/diabetic. I can tell you that the gluten free diet is not a joke. A growing number of people are being diagnosed with gluten intolerance or the more extreme form an autoimmune disease called celiac sprue. I have several family members who have been diagnosed with celiac or gluten intolerance. I am on the gluten free diet. It is a day-to-day struggle. 

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley as well as any product made with these grains. Gluten intolerance is the villi of the small intestine’s inability to break down the protein. The person experiences a wide range of symptoms including nausea, vomiting, bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation and bone or joint pain. Actually, there are 250 symptoms in which a sufferer can experience. This is makes it so hard to diagnose and often gets misdiagnosed as another disease or disorder.  

I’ve been struggling with this diet since 2008 when I began to experience more extreme symptoms and more often. I had the blood tests done in 2010 but when it came back negative, my doctor said, “Oh you don’t have it.” But I insisted that I have a biopsy done because it is the only way to definitively know if someone has celiac. When it came back negative, again my doctor said, “No, you don’t have it.” Then I started my own research and I learned that you don’t have to have celiac to be gluten intolerant. In fact, gluten intolerance can turn into celiac if it is not taken care of. Even though I do not have an official diagnosis, I went on the diet and I felt better. However, I struggle. Even though I know that my body functions better when I’m on the gluten free diet and I have my moments of weakness and I eat that cookie or that slice of pizza. The reaction is sometimes so severe where I’m miserable and I’m beating myself up for doing it yet again.

I began questioning why I have such a hard time following the diet when I know it is for the benefit of my health. I’ve come up with these reasons:
1. As a cook and baker as a hobby, I love food and sweets. Cakes, cookies, and doughnuts. Pizza, Chinese food, and green bean casserole. Even some candy bars are off limits like Twix, Kit Kats and Milky Ways. 
2. The gluten free diet is very expensive, takes extra planning and shopping. Every item is securitized for any possible gluten ingredient. Some are obvious like gravies and cookies while others are not so obvious like soy sauce, BBQ sauce, and salad dressings. 

3. Eating out can be difficult. I find going out to parties especially difficult because I don’t expect people to remember my diet restrictions or even to go out of their way to offer a food I can eat. A few years ago, I was laughed at by a waitress for requesting a gluten free items. Or I’ve gotten blank stares from people who don’t know how to answer. Thankfully, many restaurants are recognizing the gluten-free community. A few restaurants that now offer a gluten free menu:
BJ’s Restaurant and Brew house
            The Cheesecake Factory 
            Red Robin
P.F. Chang’s

It really irritates me when someone jokes about the gluten free diet because so many people are on the diet when they don’t need to be. This makes those individuals who do need to be on the diet like they are just following the trend. Living with a special diet that is life altering is a struggle. It’s a day-to-day decision to remind yourself that it’s for your health and your future. It’s a day-to-day struggle because it’s not as simple as don’t eat it especially when that food is intricate part of most, if not, all foods. It’s the day-to-day question “is this gluten free?” because you can’t take it for granted. Wheat flour, especially, can be in everything!!! So, if you know anyone who has a food restriction, whatever it may be, don’t make fun of them. It’s a daily struggle not being able to enjoy the food that you take for granted. Would you joke about the sugar-free diet of a diabetic? Probably not. Please don’t joke about the gluten free diet. It is very serious for a growing number of people.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Same kind of different as me: book review

I’ve just finished an amazing book about the most unlikely friendship which was brought together by one amazing woman. “Same kind of different as me” by Ron Hall and Denver Moore is about two men’s journey to God and a friendship that defies the odds. The story of how one person can make a difference.

Denver Moore is a black man who grew up in Red River Parish, Louisiana. He was tossed between family members after tragedy after tragedy destroys the home he is trying to make. He tries to make a living sharecropping for the Man as he calls him and learns quickly that it’s not a living, its virtual slavery. He leaves and lives on the road traveling the Southwest until he settles at a homeless shelter in Texas. Ron Hall is a white man who grew up in the “lower-middle class” in Texas. He pulls himself up out of poverty and first becomes a successful businessman and then a successful art dealer. He learns to hate the homeless after two men robbed his art gallery.
These two men are brought together by Ron’s wife, Deborah or “Miss Debbie” as Denver calls her. She is a God-fearing woman who feels the call of God to serve at the local homeless shelter. Ron goes with her hoping that once she volunteers and sees how the homeless act, she’ll never go again. Deborah sees Denver at the shelter and claims to have seen him in a dream and encourages her husband to develop a friendship with him. Ron does, reluctantly, not realizing that Denver will help him through the toughest time of his life. Deborah develops a fast growing cancer and when the doctors find it, it has spread so quickly that she has little time to live. Deborah passes away on November 3, 2000 after a two and half year battle. Ron rages against God and it's Denver who helps him realize that God had a plan for Deborah’s life and her death.

I loved this story. It is told from the prospective of both Denver and Ron with Denver opening and closing the book. Both men come from horrible conditions and both men learn a valuable lessons from each other. First, don’t make snap judgments. Snap judgments are usually based on our prejudices. Ron, angry that Denver is sleeping during the day, learns that Denver stays up all night to pray for Deborah since everyone is praying for her at night. Ron realized that the “roots of my own prejudice, of my arrogant snap judgments of the poor” ran very deep. Second, Ron realizes that Christianity is not a religion, it is a relationship. He says “I believe that, which is why I know that when my faith was shattered and I raged against Him, He still accepted me.” Third, Denver learns that some people say they want to help and mean it. Ron helps him get his driver’s license by helping clear his records. As a sign of trust, Ron hands him the keys to his truck, loaded with his daughter’s belongings, and asks Denver to drive to Colorado for him. These two men become family, tied together by the love and commitment of one woman.

The book also provides a Reader’s Guide with Discussion Questions about Prejudice, Homelessness, Sickness and Suffering. I haven’t done the questions myself but I will and they may become a future blog post. J The back of the book includes an interview with the two men. It’s an interesting read that gives more perspective on the men’s story. I highly recommend anyone to read it. It’s a fast read but it will help you gain a better perspective on people and that one person can make a difference. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

"The Ancient Secret of the Leprechauns" and "Stinky Fumes King of the Wild Vol. 1" book reviews

Today, I have two books to review. The first book is called “The Ancient Secret of the Leprechauns” written by Mahamad Ali ElFakir. It is a story about three leprechauns, D’Arcy, Lorcan and Scully, who live in a hidden home on a mountaintop. Every day for thousands of years, they would journey to the end of the rainbow to Squawky Island. There a rainbow bird named Squawky lived and where the leprechauns kept a pool of gold. They would play in the pool all day. Until one day, the magic did not work. The leprechauns must figure out how to work together to return the magic and their gold.  “The Ancient Secret of the Leprechauns” is a great adventure for children to enjoy. It has a great moral lesson at the end that teamwork and perseverance can overcome obstacles. The illustrations were done by Victor Guiza. They are beautiful with very vivid color and portray the action that is happening in the story. This story is a great read for a family or an independent reader. Children will especially enjoy the beautiful artwork and the fun and dangerous characters. The book is available in paperback for $12.95, case bound for $22.95 and eBook edition for $5.00.

The second book is called “Stinky Fumes King of the Wild Vol. 1” also by Mahamad Ali ElFakir. This is a story about Pepper, a skunk, who is excited about the meet and greet party, where all the new skunks gather together at the beginning of spring. Tiger and Hopper are rabbit brothers who were adopted by the family of skunks during the harsh winter. At the meet-and-greet, there are various competitions, one in particular was the spraying contest to decide who had the strong scent in the whole forest. Pepper would win various competitions but when it comes to the spraying contest something was very, very wrong. The other skunks began to make fun of Pepper but soon Pepper and his unique scent are needed to save the day. “Stinky Fumes King of the Wild Vol. 1” is a fun story about a skunk who learns that it’s okay to be different because it’s who he is. Independent readers would enjoy this book as well as a family reading. The illustrations were done by Victor Guiza and are beautifully done with bright colors and vivid details. The book is available in paperback for $12.95, case bound for $22.95 and eBook edition for $5.00.
Both books are fun and enjoyable. Children will enjoy the colorful characters while learning a valuable life lesson. The message fits the adventure of the story and can be related to the reader’s life. I would especially recommend these books for children who are independent readers. To order both books, please visit Outskirt Press at

The House at Sugar Beach: a review

Recently, I was given a book, “The House at Sugar Beach” by Helene Cooper. Ms. Cooper was born in Liberia and was raised there until the military coup in 1980. The book is her memoir of her childhood and life after leaving Liberia after the coup.
Her story starts in 1973 when her father, John Cooper Jr. built a “22 room behemoth” house in Sugar Beach, a community on the Atlantic Coast, 11 miles outside of Monrovia. Her family are descendants of Congo people, the freed American slaves who chose to return to Africa and found Liberia in 1822. According to Ms. Cooper, “Congo” is a derogatory term from the native Liberia and the Congo people called the natives “County People.” Her family tree is deep in Liberia’s history on both sides as well as its government officials. Her family had wealth and prestige while most of the country lived in third world conditions.
When Ms. Cooper was 11 years old, her family took in a foster daughter as a companion for her. Eunice was native Liberian from the Bassa group. Ms. Cooper goes into great details about her childhood and growing up in Liberia. She also gives a great deal of the history of Liberia. The details gives the reader an understanding about the rising tensions between the Congo and the native peoples.
April 14, 1979, the first battle in the rising of the natives. It was a small skirmish but it showed the evidence that tempers were rising. The Country people were fighting for change. President Tolbert began to implement a plan that was trying to make Liberia self-sufficient and less dependent on foreign goods. The result was prices and inflation skyrocketing. The government sponsored ads to tell the people it was all okay. It didn’t work and riots broke out. One year almost to the day of the first battle, a group of native Liberians stormed the Executive Mansion, killing the president and put is wife and children under house arrest.  Ms. Cooper’s mother would take her and her little sister, Marlene, to the U.S. Life began in the U.S. in Tennessee where Ms. Cooper struggled to fit in with anyone. To the Black community, she wasn’t black enough. She would soon move to North Carolina to be with her father as her mother moves back to Liberia in order to collect rents due to the family. There Ms. Cooper found her niche and joined the school newspaper. She decided on a career in journalism and would attended the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.
As she began her journalism career, she began to realize the depths of despair that her home country had fallen. Coup after coup overthrew the previous government and the country sunk lower and lower. She thought about all the people she left behind especially her foster sister, Eunice. She makes it her mission to go back to Liberia and find Eunice.
Ms. Cooper’s memoir is a fast read about a young girl who would learn world politics when most children aren’t aware there is a world outside their hometown. She gives great insight into a country I knew little about. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested learning about a country and a young girl who grew up there.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Frozen: another Disney classic

I recently saw the movie “Frozen” for the first time and I loved it. I don’t know why I waited so long to see it. The film stars Kristen Bell as Anna, Indina Menzel as Elsa, Jonathan Groff as Kristoff, Josh Gad as Olaf and Santino Fontana as Hans. The movie is inspired by “The Snow Queen” by beloved Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875). The songs were written by husband and wife team of Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. The song “Let it go” won an Academy Award for Best Original Song. Since the movie came out, I’ve read two article which heavily criticized the movie. One for the overly sexual nature of the Snow Queen and the apparently homosexual propaganda of the relationships in the movie. I will address each criticism later. But first a short recap.
                The story opens with village men cutting the frozen river to make ice blocks, singing a work song which sets up the story: “Beware the frozen heart” and “Ice has a magic that can’t be controlled.” Inside the castle, younger sister, Anna, is wide awake and wakes up her older sister, Elsa. Elsa have magic powers to create ice and snow. Anna is able to get Elsa up and they play in a great hall, where Elsa makes a frozen wonderland. During their play, Elsa accidently hits Anna and their parents afraid of her growing powers, forcing Elsa to live isolated from everyone. “Do you want to build a snowman?” is a song which shows the continuing isolation of the Elsa and the loneliness of Anna as they grow up.
Elsa is now of age, which I assume is 18 years old but the film gives no indication of her age, and it’s her coronation day. With the excitement of the coronation and the open castle gates, Anna meets Hans, prince of the Southern Isles and they have a seemingly magical evening together. The song “Love is an open door” is sung as they fall in love. Hans proposes, Anna accepts and Anna presents their engagement to Elsa who become angry at the prospect of more people in the castle. The sisters have an argument and Elsa can’t control her powers as it seems they grow with fear and anger. She runs away as they are revealed and imparts fear into the people.
                Elsa runs high into the mountains while singing “Let it go” as she creates her ice castle and becomes the Snow Queen. Elsa’s power has grown so great the she has created an eternal winter. Anna, feeling guilty, decides to go after her and leaves Hans in charge. Anna employs the help of Kristoff and his pet reindeer, Sven, to go to the North Mountain where Elsa has set up her castle. Along the way, they met Olaf, a magic snowman who Elsa created with Anna as children and recreated when return the land to summer. Elsa hits Anna in the heart with ice magic and creates an ice monster to chase them off the mountain. Kristoff takes Anna to the magical trolls to heal from the magic hit and the troll tells them that only true love can undo the magic. They assumed that Hans is Anna’s true love and they rush to get there soon. When Anna arrives back at the castle, Hans shows his true colors and leaves Anna to die and goes after Elsa. Hans attacks Elsa just as Anna steps between them, turning into ice and breaking the sword. Elsa falls to the ground in grief. Anna begins to thaw and the sisters embrace and that’s when Elsa realizes how she can control her powers with love.

                The first criticism of “Frozen” was Elsa’s transformation into the Snow Queen. As the Snow Queen, Elsa is sexier and more womanly

My response is every little girl becomes a woman. Ignoring that fact does not change it. Little girls need to stay little girls for as long as possible; however, eventually they will grow up and if I assumed Elsa’s age correctly, she’s 18. She’s no longer a child. She’s a woman and deserves to look like a woman.
                The second criticism of “Frozen” was famously posted in the blog “A Well Behaved Mormon Woman” by Kathryn Skaggs. Her claim is that “Frozen” is filled with pro-gay propaganda and that even Elsa is a lesbian. There were NO homosexual themes in this movie. Anna’s curse broke because of true love. The head troll, Pappie, said, “Only true love can thaw a frozen heart.” Not true love’s kiss, but true love. Why not the true love of sisters? John 15:13 says “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” And that’s what Anna does when she steps between the sword and Elsa, she laid down her life for her sister. Mrs. Skaggs’ other criticism was that since Elsa was not “boy crazy” like her sister, she must be a lesbian. Not being “boy crazy” doesn’t mean that Elsa’s automatically a lesbian. Her parents instilled in her fear of her powers, fear of hurting others. So Elsa closes herself off from others. She couldn’t allow herself to get close to anyone.
                “Frozen” is going to be counted among the beloved Disney movies. I enjoyed this movie very much and look forward to seeing for years to come with my children. I love the song “Let it go.” It’s a great about being freed from whatever may have been holding you in prison. It’s being free from stress and fear. I particularly like the line “It’s funny how some distance makes everything seem small.” I don’t see any basis for any of the criticisms of this movie. My only suggestion to those critics is: if you think Disney is corrupting the youth, don’t let your children see it. Don’t buy movie tickets, don’t buy the merchandise. 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Rose Trilogy by Beverly Lewis book reviews

This past Christmas, my husband bought me The Rose Trilogy by Beverly Lewis. It is a series about the Amish community in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Though I had never read Christian fiction about the Amish, I was curious to see how good this series would be.

                The first book in the series is called The Thorn. It opens with Rose Ann Kauffman, 20, the youngest daughter of Solomon Kauffman, a crop farmer, wagon maker and Emma Kauffman who has been paralyzed from a buggy accident and lives in constant pain. She has older brothers who are talked about but never really seen in this book. She has one older sister, Hannah, nicknamed Hen who married Brandon Orringer, an English (non-Amish) man and they have one daughter Mattie Sue. Hen has left the Amish community because she has married an Outsider. Rose’s friend is Nick Franco, a foster child of Bishop Aaron Petershiem and his wife Barbara. Many in the community see Nick as trouble and Rose soon becomes his only friend. The book opens with Emma’s accident and the arrival of Nick. Rose takes care of her mother and helps a gentleman in the community with household chores. Hen yearns for her Amish roots and begins to immerse herself back in the community much to the dismay of her husband. Nick, now 21, is beyond the age of being baptized into the church and truly becoming a part of the community but he is resisting. Rose is being courted by Silas Good and thus a love-triangle is formed. As the book ends, Nick has left the community and Rose accepts a marriage proposal from Silas.  

                The second book in the series is called The Judgment. The story picks up a month or so after The Thorn ends. The community still talking about Nick and the events which led to his leaving. Bishop Aaron must face consequences of his foster son’s actions. A new character, Rebekah, is introduced. She is coming to the community to help a new mother after birth. It is very obvious that another love-triangle is being established. The reader is introduced to some of Brandon’s family. His sister, Terry, who seems to be stuck up and happy that her Amish sister-in-law is getting the boot. And his brother, Lawrence, who seems to sweeter and kinder to his sister-in-law. The tensions between Hen and Brandon are coming to a boil and when tragedy strikes, Hen has an opportunity to show Brandon that she still cares and show him the world he so stubbornly refused to see.  Emma seems to be getting worse when a young girl with special needs enters their lives and gives them hope that she can get better. The reader discovers the real reason behind Silas’ proposal. Rose has to come to a difficult decision, a decision that could tarnish her reputation in the community.

                The third book in the series is called The Mercy. This story takes place after the New Year with Rose Ann getting a new suitor, Isaac, and a surprise returns to the community. This creates yet another love triangle. Rose Ann dates Isaac but there’s something him that doesn’t feel right and the reader knows that this isn’t the man for Rose Ann but it sets up for the arrival of the man Rose Ann does truly belong with. The situation between Hen and Brandon comes to a close with a resolution that surprised me but it fit their conflict.  The situation involving Bishop Aaron and Nick revolves with a situation that seems a little too good to be true. Without giving it away, it seems to me that if the Amish community is as tight knit as they claim to be, why didn’t the information come forward sooner? Overall, this book was enjoyable and it was a nice ending to a series that started out slowly.
                The Thorn started slow for me. So slow, in fact, that I had to put in down for a month, then pick it back up. The author uses Amish language, Deitsch, without much explanation of what the words mean. The reader is left to guess by the surrounding content but it’s distracting to have language without some form of translation. Rose seems a little na├»ve when it comes to the people in her community. She sees Nick as a friend and never picked up the fact that he had more than friendship feelings for her. The tensions between Hen and Brandon are annoying.  The Judgment was a much better read. I was able to finish it in a day. The unfolding drama was much more captivating. The one thought that stuck in my head was the constant objection to higher education. I do know that the Amish do not attend school beyond the eighth education. Is the idea that education beyond what is necessary to live in the community will drive children away from the community? The Mercy was better than The Thorn but wasn’t as good as The Judgment. The events in the series takes place in approximately in one year with an epilogue. This series was enjoyable read. I recommend it to readers who love reading about new communities and peoples.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

A simple Sunday morning

It's a quiet Sunday morning. My daughter is down for an early nap. I've had my shower and eaten my breakfast/lunch. I'm sitting here at the computer, thinking these are the best moments. The silence, the no running around, can take my time sort of day. They don't come very often. It's days like today that I just sit back and take a deep breath. Just a simple post for a simple Sunday morning!