Friday, May 17, 2013

Going Gluten Free

I’ve never been one to follow fad diets. I am firmly convinced that you should eat what you enjoy and enjoy what you eat. The problem with this philosophy is that I enjoy chips and chocolate and pasta way too much. For a while there I was dining on KD more often than could possibly be good for anybody. I’m not much into cooking and I don’t have an adventurous palate at the best of times, so quick and easy is my typical kitchen MO.

I have this daughter, though, who decided to cut gluten from her and her children’s diet (along with most dairy and sugar). Her enthusiasm for healthy eating was, I admit, resisted on my part, even though I saw the positive results she was getting. All the hype about gluten actually irritated me (not from my daughter, but in general) and I rolled my eyes at many people who seemed to be lapping it up. Then the popular Wheat Belly book started making the rounds. As a librarian, it is difficult not to be exposed to these trends and, while I usually smile and nod around gritted teeth when patron demand guides my acquisition budget to them, I will, on occasion, check out (literally) these books to see what all the hype is about.

More and more, people were telling me about their personal experiences with going gluten free. In the past year or so I think I’ve seen several hundred pounds disappear from the bellies of people who espouse the gluten-free life style. I use life-style rather than just diet, because that’s what it is!

A few weeks ago, after only the first few chapters of Wheat Belly, I decided to give it a try. Life without pasta was going to be a challenge, but I persevered. Rice pasta, rice and potatoes are now opening up a whole new world of eating experience for me.

I really missed my peanut butter and jam sandwiches, too. No bread = no toast, no eggs Benedict, no creamed tuna on toast, no grilled cheese sandwiches, no garlic toast, no croutons. Bah! How do people live like this?!

Well, I guess they get creative. And that’s what I’m doing. Gluten-free pancakes work perfectly for sandwiches, eggs Benedict and creamed tuna. Not so much for grilled cheese or garlic toast or croutons, but hey! life’s full of little trade-offs.

I was also dismayed, after recently discovering the wonders of spanakopita, to discover that gluten-free phyllo pastry is non-existent. What? No spanakopita? Unacceptable!

Enter Google and the unearthing of a simple recipe for gluten-free pastry suitable for spanakopita pie.

Enter, also, DebiLyn Smith, author of Running From Cancer: a Tilted Memoir, for Sinless Chocolate Macaroons (page 209). These little treats are amazingly delightful in spite of the fact that they contain no sugar and no flour at all. (Running from Cancer is available at in paperback and Kindle editions, but not on yet.)

And enter as well, my health nut daughter, who recently visited me for a week and showed me just how tasty the GF world of cuisine can be.

In just three weeks I’ve lost 7 pounds. I feel more alert and I sleep better. I have a noticeable rise in energy. And I’m not constantly hungry!

I can still enjoy chips and chocolate. But I don’t feel compelled to wolf down a whole chocolate bar or hoover back an entire bag of chips; a couple of bites and I save the rest for later. (Apparently GF saves money and cuts down on garbage, too!) I find myself more inclined to reach for a piece of fruit or some veggies and dip than junk food. And passing up powdered donuts and mini cupcakes is way easier than I thought it would be.

Hot dogs and hamburgers without the bun are not so bad. I have to eat them with a fork instead of my hands, but I can live with that.

I am amazed, having become a label-reader, how much wheat there is in the food we buy. It’s everywhere, in everything. And, I’ve discovered, it’s addictive. Polypeptides produced in the digestion process actually penetrate the blood/brain barrier and interact with opiate receptors in the brain, giving a mild high and causing – sometimes sever – withdrawal symptoms. Wow! That’s crazy! All because wheat has been so genetically modified to increase yield over the past 60 years or so that it is, in effect, a drug. I won’t get into the economic realities that go along with that. Suffice it to say that it’s one of those little details that food manufacturers and government licensing bodies don’t want consumers to know. (I do love a good conspiracy theory!)

Anyway, I’m off now to enjoy a bowl of porridge and some fruit… yes, an orange sounds yummy. And later spanakopita pie and Sinless Chocolate macaroon baking will be in order. Curry rice noodles, anyone?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Another Alegria Mystery

I have lived at Alegria for just over two years now.  Right from the get-go strange things have happened in this house.  The first night I spent at Alegria I heard a voice in the basement that sounded like a man muttering on about something.  Though I could not make out any words, the voice was distinctly male and a bit troubled (by my presence?).  The doorbell rings randomly now and then and there is a door in the basement that, if left open, will be shut with some force during the night. 

I have found small piles of spruce or pine needles in various places, accompanied by the strong, fresh scent of evergreen trees.  One day I found several small nails on the floor in the living room, hallway and bedroom, all used, some bent and all with a different colour of paint on the head – none of which matched anything in the house.  I have felt weird cold spots and strange draughts in different places.  I have heard low moans and loud crashes though I’ve not been able to locate the sources.   Things have been moved.  Both Oliver and Willow have reacted to in strange ways, suddenly arching their backs, flattening their ears and hissing at some unseen thing, often in the hallway and sometimes in the living room or dining room.  I have watched them casually walking through the house and then suddenly backing away from something I can’t see, or waking from a dead sleep to leap away in fright from some equally invisible something.  (Bad dreams, perhaps?) 

I do not feel threatened or frightened by any of these odd occurrences.   I fondly put them down to the antics of Harry, the ghost, so named for a deceased previous owner of the house.   Some of them have plausible, logical explanations; others remain mysteries. 

The other morning – Monday I think it was – I woke up and, as per my usual routine, performed my morning ablutions before heading to the dining room to check my e-mail and my Angry Birds Friends Weekly Tournament status.  On my way through the living room I found a large chunk of foam lying on the carpet in front of one of the wing chairs.  Oliver and Willow were circling it with their backs arched and tails puffed out, obviously afraid of it. 

The foam chunk is slightly larger than a coffee cup and appears to be deliberately shaped for some specific purpose, though I cannot imagine what.  I have no idea where it came from or what it was meant for.   The plausible, logical explanation is that it was in a corner under the stairs and one of the cats discovered it and dragged it up stairs.  If that is the case, it is oddly dust-free and clean.  They have retrieved other things – a bracelet and a bullet – from down there.  I have never crawled in and checked to see what else might be lurking in the dark recesses of that space. 

Found on the living room floor: one chunk of foam.
Where the heck did it come from?  
I feel compelled to state that I do not think that ghosts exist.  At least not in the traditional, popular-fiction versions of wispy figures, fully dressed and looking like their human selves.  That’s just nonsense.  It makes no sense to me. 

I have experienced what is popularly termed as poltergeist activity on a few occasions in the past.  Once a stuffed animal flew off my dresser and landed about three feet in front of it on the floor with no obvious cause.  Another time, a bottle of rum slid across the fridge where it was sitting and landed upright on the counter next to the fridge.  And once, at a friend’s house, two framed photographs (among several others) fell face down on the top of the TV on which they were displayed.  What caused these items to move the way they did is a mystery to me.  I have no plausible, logical explanation for these events. 

I find the notion of ghosts to be vastly intriguing.  Experience tells me that things happen, mysterious and extraordinary things, but to assign them to the activities of “ghosts” is simply not rational.  The weird things that have happened at Alegria – and other places I’ve been – are not the result of Harry (or any deceased human) acting out or trying to send a message.  Of that, I am relatively certain.  Those “ghosts” are, in my mind, products of psychological and emotional response to grief and fear and nothing more. 

I cannot explain where the pine needles in their neat little piles, or the nails with their brightly painted heads came from.  I don’t know how the door in the basement gets closed in the middle of the night when I have stood there with it open for long periods of time without it closing.   I don’t know what causes the moaning sounds or the crashing sounds in my house.  I don’t know how things I have left on the counter in the kitchen at night end up in the living room on the coffee table in the morning.  I don’t know what frightens Oliver and Willow and I cannot explain the cold spots or weird draughts (a very chilly gust of air blowing through the shower from the inside, for example.  I suspect that the doorbell wiring is flawed and a legitimate “ding” is followed some time later by its partner “dong” because of this.  Although sometimes the ding and the dong happen together when no one is at the door pressing the button, it is quite plausible that someone did press the button earlier and both the ding and the dong were delayed in tandem by the wiring glitch.  (It is an old house!) 

Both my right and left brains love to play with these events, analyzing and dissecting, searching for both the rational and the fantastical causes.   I imagine a wager going on between them:

Right Brain:  I’ll bet you a million cells it’s a ghost!

Left Brain:  Prepare to lose, Righty! 

Regardless of the hows or the whys of any of this, the funny chunk of foam is another mystery yet to be solved.  I can’t imagine where it came from, but I’d welcome any explanation that anyone might be able to offer.  Did one of my kids leave it behind after a visit?  Was it among some long-forgotten craft stuff somewhere?  Was it under the stairs all this time and only just found by the cats?  (seems logical except for its clean condition)  Or is “Harry” trying to tell me something?  Whatever the explanation, life at Alegria continues to be wonderfully, magically fascinating, curious and remarkable.  

Thursday, May 2, 2013

And Now For the Stats

Last month I participated in the A to Z Blog Challenge.  Wow!  I had no idea how difficult it was going to be to come up with 26 posts in 30 days.  But I did it.  I tend to be a hit and miss blogger, so having to discipline myself to write something every day was definitely a challenge. 

Between April 1 and April 30 I posted 26 different blogs on a range of topics, many of which were suggested by friends.  (Thank goodness!  I’d have been lost without them.)  To date those 26 posts have been viewed a total of 583 times.  The most viewed post was D is for D’Arcy, having been viewed 56 times for 9% of the total Challenge views, thus proving that D’Arcy is indeed awesome (and a damn fine pirate!). 

Throughout the challenge, the number of followers of my blog increased by 125%.  My ego is vehemently in opposition to my posting the actual numbers, which are much more impressive expressed as a percentage.  (I went from 8 to 18 followers.)  Still, I’m good with that. 

I personally read over two hundred challenge posts from other bloggers.  There was no way I could have possibly read them all; there were hundreds of bloggers participating and thousands of posts.  It was really quite amazing that anyone found me at all amid the really quite interesting and amazing blogs that were there. 

Over the past month my blog posts were viewed 420 times in the USA.  That is 20% more than in Canada (348).  Russia is third with 181 views in the last 30 days.  Honorable mention goes to Germany (101), UK  (48), China (35) and Poland (28).  Obviously, they were viewing posts previous to the Challenge posts as well.  I use the word viewing rather than reading because the reality is that, statistically speaking, probably only 10% of the people who happened upon my blog actually read anything!  (I’m good with that, too.)

Several times (no specific – or even calculated  - stats available) I asked myself why I blog.  I honestly don’t have an answer to that.  I’ve always loved writing and I’ve always dreamed of being a writer.  I suppose that this is an outlet, even if it is more of a diary than actual writing.  It does cater to my curiosity.  I am often compelled to research new ideas and I love finding new information.  Sharing it in my blog helps it to process and assists in retention.  It’s partly habit now.  Other than that, there is no real goal or objective. 

Yesterday I started another month-long challenge – David Suzuki’s 30 X 30 Challenge!  I did this last year with the encouragement of my daughter and thoroughly enjoyed it.  Being motivated to get outside and connect with nature was good for me.  I walked more.  I went canoeing.  I went kite flying.  I spend time at the duck pond.  I worked in my yard.  A year later, the lessons of that challenge are still with me. 

You can participate in the 30x30 Challenge, too.  If you wish to officially register, you can do it here:  Or you can just challenge yourself by pledging to spend 30 minutes a day for the next 30 days outside being active and enjoying nature.