Where did 3 years go?!…

Little did I know when I wrote my last post, … AND THEN CANCER MOVES UP ON MY LIST OF HEALTH CONCERNS (AND WHY I’M OK WITH IT), that it would be over 3 years before I would return back to the blogging scene. Life can be a tricky game to navigate. It turns out that my father’s diagnosis of stomach cancer would be just the tip of the iceberg in a series of life-evolving events.

Sadly, just two months after my father’s diagnosis he succumbed to the disease and passed away quite peacefully surrounded by the love of his family. To this day, although sad, his passing is still the most beautiful thing I have ever experienced. It wasn’t until after he passed that I realized just how amazing of a person he was to our community … simply by doing nothing more than just being “Don”. After seeing how shocked and grief-stricken our community was by his passing, I decided to build a Memorial Dog Park in his memory. The community loved the idea and over the next 2 years I worked my butt off to raise the funds needed and it ended up being a $16,000 project. You can read about our wonderful dog park here:
https://www.facebook.com/DonaldGatesMemorialDogPark.

While still grieving and regularly travelling back home to our hometown to support our mother, my husband and I were busy designing our dream home during our evenings and weekends when we weren’t working. We are quite smitten with the final result and it is a true reflection of our personalities … much the same way as our wedding was a reflection of who we are as individuals and as a couple. In November 2013 we finally moved into our forever dream home.

December 2013 I started transitioning from my current job into a new role in my department so the next few months were a real adjustment/learning curve. No big deal.

February 2014 I had my six month colonoscopy / annual gastroscopy as part of my FAP battle, and it turned out that my condition was getting worse. Six months earlier I had only a couple of polyps and all of a sudden it had jumped to about 17 polyps in my colon with about another 30 that were too flat to be removed so they had to be left behind. Such a drastic change in such a short amount of time made my GI Specialist nervous and she recommended a complete proctocolectomy with permanent ileostomy.

colectomy

Source: http://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases_conditions/hic-colorectal-cancer/fap-inherited

March 2014 I decided to get away and cheer myself up. I travelled to Fredericton, New Brunswick to visit my dear friend Kelda who was undergoing a therapy program at the Stan Cassidy Centre for Rehabilitation. Kelda had been in a life-threatening and life-changing accident in June 2012 and I had been supporting her through her recovery since then. Most of my support was through funny letters that I would write her but it was nice to get away and visit her for a change. Kelda suffered Locked-In Syndrome as a result of the injuries that she sustained from her accident. You can learn more about her story through the Facebook Page that I created to keep her supporters up to date on her status — Kelda Farrell: Breaking Out of Locked In Syndrome. Although I had been supporting Kelda for the past nearly 2 years, I knew that Kelda would be a huge support and inspiration as I navigated through my upcoming surgery.

April 2014 the most amazing thing happened! I became an Aunt!! Again, time that I could have been dedicating to blogging was consumed by visits to see the most adorable little human being.

June and July 0f 2014 was crazy busy but very exciting. I kicked off a Fundrazr Campaign with some co-workers to raise money to purchase a Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) “Stim” bike. The month was filled with answering phone calls, driving a social media campaign, as well as conducting newspaper and radio interviews. At the same time I was running a Teespring campaign to raise money for the dog park in my dad’s memory and designed a shirt with a saying that I came up after he passed: “Those who leave this earth too early do so because they use up all their energy being absolutely awesome.”

August 2014 I went back for my 6-month scope, and it appeared that my condition had regressed slightly. Perhaps it was due to taking curcumin, an anti-inflammatory supplement that has shown to slow or reduce polyp formation in some studies. We then entered the “do we even want to have kids” debate as I wasn’t sure if I wanted to pass along my genetic condition.

During the Fall of 2014 in addition to doing research into what impact the various surgery options would have on fertility, carrying and delivering a baby,  I was also busy doing some graphic designs so I could open a CafePress shop to raise a little money towards our fundraising efforts for the dog park.

My 2015 New Years Resolution was to “Slow down enough to find time to read (and enjoy) at least one book over the course of the year”. I started out doing well with that goal (managed to knock off one book in the first 3 weeks of the year) but on January 29th, 2015 I found myself to be one of the first to fall victim of corporate layoffs when the price of oil plummeted. The next week I was due back to the endoscopy unit for my 6th month colonoscopy and gastroscopy (as if I wasn’t already stressed enough as it was). They asked “Any chance you’re pregnant?” My nonchalant response was: “Nope, I’ve been having cramping all week … I’m fairly certain my period will start during this procedure.” A few more days passed and still no period. “Geez, I don’t suppose I went through a colonoscopy while pregnant?!” I started to panic. Sure enough, 2 separate pregnancy tests confirmed it. I stressed what the drugs that were intravenously administered during the procedure would have done to my baby. Luckily, my family physician assured me that it was so early in the pregnancy that fluids were not yet transferring from me yet. Phew!

So 1) surprise Layoff, 2) planned endoscopy,  and 3) surprise pregnancy — January 2015, you were a pretty intense month!

I had been planning on coming off my antidepressant for some time and my doctor had agreed to ease me off of it. But when I was laid off on short notice, I decided to ask her to keep me on it until things settled. The next week I returned. “Back again so soon?” was her comment at the sight of me,  and my response was “Um. I think I’m pregnant.” She let out a little laugh (knowing that I would understand the ‘what else can the world throw at you after going through a layoff and a colonoscopy’ intent). I reciprocated with my own chuckle as if to say ‘I know, right?!’ Between morning sickness and cutting out my antidepressant cold turkey the First Trimester was a beast. I wouldn’t have physically been able to work. At this point the layoff was a blessing in disguise. I did start applying for a few jobs and even interviewed for one contract position as I transitioned into the Second Trimester and started feeling better. But returning to work wasn’t in the cards for me so I enjoyed the rest of my pregnancy without employment which allowed me to continue fundraising for the Dog Park and was luckily enough to officially open it during August 2015. Finally I had a little time to rest before our baby arrived 2 weeks early on September 28th. I’ve had my hands full from that day forward and it’s been an incredible 11 months so far!!

Getting to GI Specialist appointments, prepping for and going through endoscopies,  and meeting with surgeons, all with a newborn had its challenges but we were able to make it work. After a long debate we settled on the Ileorectal Anastomosis (IRA) option for surgery.

ileorectal

Source: http://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases_conditions/hic-colorectal-cancer/fap-inherited

Basically now I’m just waiting for a call from the surgeon and expect a weeks notice. It’s been one whirlwind of 3 years!

So now that you’re up to speed on what I’ve been doing for the past 3 years, it’s not surprising that I haven’t had an opportunity to work on my blog. I started the blog as a means of doing some branding for the restaurant I was dreaming up in my head. Unfortunately, due to the loss of my engineering job, my dream of developing a restaurant for people with food allergies and dietary restrictions has been put on hold (and most likely indefinitely considering the decline of my health condition) as I’ll have no financial reserve to invest to see it through. It was a beautiful and vivid dream while it lasted. I expect that while going through surgery to have my colon removed, I’ll use this blog as a means to chronicle what I’m experiencing both physically and mentally… and no doubt there could be  additional dietary restrictions imposed as a means of controlling the erratic behaviour of my new digestive system.

Thanks for taking the time to read. Writing this post has been incredibly therapeutic.

xo
Krista

 

… And Then Cancer Moves Up On My List Of Health Concerns (and why I’m ok with it)

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Two years ago I figured out that a severe gluten intolerance was the culprit of my ill health (as a side note, I’m still awaiting determination if it’s Celiac Disease). By strictly modifying my diet, my ill health improved drastically.

Just over a year ago I suffered a mental breakdown and began treatment for clinical depression. Again, huge results in my mental and physical health after I started on a low dose anti-depressant.

Now, Cancer is on the forefront of my list of health concerns that I need to keep an eye out for. Warning: This is a bit of a long story.

Remember the kids’ story “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day“? The particular day in question wasn’t quite as bad as that … but it was the start of the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week.

I woke up the last Monday of March and it was just one of those days. It was one of those days where I just feel like all I want to do is sit down and cry and there was absolutely nothing that I could think of that had set it off. Once upon a time it was a regular occurrence. Now, it only happens from time to time. I’m not sure what exactly it is that spurs it on … it could be that my anti-depressants were taken too close together or too far apart. Perhaps it was related to my monthly cycle. Who knows what triggered it. I just knew that if I got up and carried on that it would likely pass at some point throughout the day and if not, my mood/state would be reset the following day after waking up after a long nights sleep.

Later on that day I had a message from my mom saying that my dad had went for an ultrasound and something had shown up. The next day, he returned for a CT scan and the results indicated that most likely one of the polyps in his stomach had turned cancerous.

This was not 100% entirely unexpected. My father has a condition called Attenuated Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (AFAP). If left untreated, growths (called polyps) can form in the colon and turn cancerous over time. A regular colonoscopy can check for these growths and if present, they can be removed at that time. My father had his first polyp show up at the age of 40. By the time that he had turned 50 the number had multiplied so rapidly that there were hundreds of polyps in his large intestine – too many to “burn off”. As a preventative measure, he had all but a few inches of his large intestine removed. The following year polyps began forming in his stomach. And similarly, they multiplied to the hundreds. At first there were talks about removing his entire stomach, connecting his esophagus to his small intestine, a process referred to as a gastrectomy . But it would be such a huge impact to his body considering that there was only a few inches left to his large intestine, and in his particular case they expected him to be on a liquid diet and probably have to use a feeding tube. They decided to monitor at 6 month intervals with the intent that they would be able to do the surgery the minute (figuratively, that is) that the polyps started to turn. He was due to go back in a few weeks for his 6 month “inspection” but over the Fall he wasn’t feeling well, having a lot of pain, and that past week he was starting to get nauseated, in addition to the other new symptoms that he was experiencing. That’s when they put him on the fast track for the ultrasound and CT scan.

I ended up calling in to work that Wednesday and said that I wouldn’t be in. I had a lot to process.

My first thoughts were just getting him through his surgery and treatments. Then I started to think about what was to come next. I thought about how his life would be affected by no longer having a stomach (I suspect I inherited my ‘foodie’ personality from him). And then it occurred to me that if I ever do get my restaurant idea off of the ground, that my dad would not be able to enjoy the food that is prepared there. And it made me sad. My dad has always been super proud of my accomplishments and I would hate for him not to experience it in its entirety.

And then my thoughts started to shift from my dad … to my eventual fate.

I, like my dad, am gene positive for AFAP. I’ve known that I’ve had the condition since I was little, due to genetic testing. Screening for polyps started for me while I was still in high school. My dad didn’t get his first polyp until he was 40. By age 50, he had the majority of his large intestine removed. I had my first polyp at age 26. The next year I had my first polyp in my stomach. So I worry, if it progresses at the same rate as my father, will I be looking at the removal of my large intestine by age 36? Or, like with his stomach, could the polyps in my stomach multiple so quickly that I have to deal with cancer and/or have my stomach removed before I hit 40? It was a lot to take in.

Then I started to wonder “What if I get cancer and/or have my stomach removed? What happens to my restaurant dream then??”

This blog has been a component of that dream and I’ve been having so much fun doing it. My blog and dream restaurant is my passion right now. It’s what drives me.

It’s funny. That Monday morning when I woke (before any light had been shed on the extent of the worsening of my dad’s health), I had read an interesting post on Offbeat Home, “I caught that dream that I was chasing. Now what?“. I could relate to the post because: 1) the writer deals with “Imposter Syndrome” and 2) I’ve also been wondering that exact same question. Despite waking up that morning feeling bad from the start, this post was just what I needed to make my bad day feel a little brighter. I felt encouraged that morning to continue after my dream.

Despite reading that post and feeling better about my bad day, after receiving the news of my father’s predicament, it fast-tracked my future-fears of battling cancer myself. In addition to that, I started to worry about what would happen if I had to have my stomach removed. Would I even want to continue to develop this blog and/or my restaurant dream if I were unable to partake in the pleasures of food? Or, if I did achieve my dream restaurant, would I come to resent it??

Then I started to wonder “What if I can no longer enjoy food? Will I become a social hermit?”

I thought about how we love to entertain and its always based on food. True to Newfoundlander form, we’ve always been known for our “kitchen parties”. For this reason, our new home is being designed with our kitchen as our focal point of the house. It’s where we will spend the majority of our time. What if I start to despise those kitchen parties because I would feel out of place because I can’t enjoy dining with my friends?

My not-so-final thought: “Should I give up on my dream?”

This was a lot to digest for one day. I felt lost and I felt like I should give up on my dream rather than face the possibility of my dreams eventually being crushed. I had an overwhelming feeling of “what’s even the point?“.

Then I received an email response to a previous request to do a guest post on my blog. They said that they wanted to do a post on Celiac Disease and Depression, and that they had found my blog by doing a Google search. I think it was what I needed to snap me back out of the funk that I had found myself in. I started this blog as a means to help others through sharing my experiences. By labelling my blog “Food Allergies Etcetera”, the etcetera portion has allowed me to delve into the topic of mental health. And I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from people who have read my posts related to mental illness because they could truly identify with what I had experienced, and they found that they now had someone else who knew what they were personally experiencing. So what, if at some point I may not be able to enjoy food and share in foodie experiences. Perhaps this blog will morph into something else that is useful to others … perhaps it will serve as a connection point for others with AFAP/FAP, or perhaps it will be a vessel to share my future story of cancer prevention and/or survival.

On the first Friday of April (funny how April just happens to be cancer awareness month), my dad received confirmation that, since his last 6 month inspection, he had cancer in his stomach. His GI surgeon advised that he would not be doing  the gastrectomy at this time and that chemo was the better treatment option. A referral was made to see an oncologist, to discuss chemo. Things have moved very fast and it’s already been just under three weeks since he started treatment and he is doing well with it. Other than being fatigued, he’s not felt sick, has no pain, has stopped losing weight, has regained his appetite and is able to enjoy food just as he always has. And best of all, he still has a full head of thick hair that any 58 year old would be envious of 😉. Hopefully this is an indication of the effectiveness of the treatment!

It’s been a month since that horrible, no good, very bad day … but since then, I’ve stumbled across this article about a young woman in her 20s who decided to have a gastrectomy, and it was quite positive. I also found the No Stomach For Cancer website which has a lot of valuable information, including this overview of a Gastrectomy (You’ll find a lot of useful info related to life during and after a gastrectomy. Just hover over “Gastric Cancer” at the top menu, then hover over “Life Without a Stomach” and you’ll find 4 subpages). In addition to this, I was connected with someone (who I’ll be meeting in the coming weeks) who also decided to have a gastrectomy because she knew that stomach cancer was imminent (due to genetic markers) and she claims that the surgery saved her life (in addition to many other of members of her family). I think she will be a huge resource should I ever decide to go that route in the future. As a result, I’m starting to feel that although having a future Gastrectomy would be life altering, it wouldn’t be the end of the world.

My final thought: “You know what? … this situation isn’t as bad as it sounds”

I know the information that I’ve laid out in this post is a bit much to take in … and it sounds like a sad story. But I’m not letting it manifest that way for me. I know our family can beat this. I had a bit of an epiphany moment and its really helped me to deal with the whole situation:

Everyone has their expiry dates. If my eventual fate was to be hit by a bus and killed in a months time, I’d have no idea … And would go on living as if I had years to accomplish what I want to accomplish in life, only to be cut short of those accomplishments. Now I get to live as though I don’t have all the time in the world, it will motivate me to be healthier, appreciate life more and make the best of it.

I wouldn’t come out and be as cocky to say “bring it on!” to cancer … but if it happens to me I’ll be ready for it. I live a relatively healthy life, and am consciously aware of my physical and mental states. I’ve learned over the years that I need to listen to my mental and physical needs. If something seems to be wrong, I’ll immediately arrange to have it checked out. Perhaps in the years to come I’ll be pro-active and have a partial or full gastrectomy, if it looks like it will reduce my risk of developing cancer. I’m upbeat and positive and have an amazingly huge support network in my life, including a fantastic local-gone-national Non-Profit Organization called Young Adult Cancer Canada. I’ve been supporting this group since I’ve discovered it in 2009 and take comfort in knowing the fantastic support that they give to young adults dealing with cancer. I’m not in despair by the recent series of events … I am motivated and I am ready for whatever life has to dish out to me! 🙂

Have you, or someone close to you, had a gastrectomy, been affected by stomach/colorectal cancer, or are a cancer survivor? If so, care to share any advice?

Thanks for reading. As you may or may not have noticed, I recently took a short hiatus from blogging. I have a feeling that for the time being I might continue with this break or at least not blog as actively … although there is potential for some guest posts to pop up from time to time.

Also, positive thoughts are appreciated for our family at this time.

xo

Krista

I Experimented … With Kale

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There’s several reasons why I started this blog and do varying posts.

  1. I want to help those in the St. John’s, NL area find out what options are available in terms of gluten intolerance and other dietary restrictions … My main focus is in dining out, and this is just starting to kick off. Expect the premier post, soon! 🙂
  2. To share my experiences in exploring natural living and cooking. I’m just a regular Joe, with no  nutrition or culinary background. I assure you that if I can do it, you can most certainly can too.
  3. I want to learn from others. I post things because I want to tell the story of what I’ve tried and attempted, but I want to get ideas from others like me who are exploring the same things and what they’ve found has worked and what hasn’t.

So today, I experimented with Kale. I’ve been wanting to try out cooking with Kale for a long time. Mostly from seeing various graphics on the benefits of Kale such as this one:

And also from seeing various posts from my friend Sharon, at Am I Vegan Now?, on how much she loves Kale. More recently she’s got me thinking about a trying out a breakfast scramble.

So today, I decided to try out a Kale Scramble.

Kale Scramble

I went with Sharon’s advice and used ingredients that I had on hand in my pantry and fridge. Last week’s Small Fruit and Veggie Box from Real Food Market consisted of organic Kale, Spinach, Potatoes, Tomatoes and Bananas. So, for the scramble, I used:

  • Organic kale
  • Organic Potatoes
  • Organic Tomatoes
  • Organic onion (left over from my last RFM purchase)
  • Organic pine nuts (that I purchased at Whole Foods when I was in Toronto recently)

as well as:

  • Non-organic red and green peppers
  • Non-organic bacon

 … as I mentioned at the start of this post, this is my exploration into more natural living so I’m not 100% organic, but I’m getting there 🙂

I fried the bacon in a separate pan in order to remove excess fat. I fried all of the harder veggies first (such as the potato, peppers and onion) and once softened, I added in the kale and tomato. As for seasonings, I didn’t need a lot because the veggies naturally give a lot of flavour … as well as the bacon … but I did add in a pinch of celery salt at the end.

The result was delicious! Thanks Sharon for making me want to try out cooking with Kale … and attempting a scramble. It was as easy and delicious as you said it would be 🙂

Do you cook with Kale? If so, care to share links to your favourite recipes? How about Scrambles? Have you tried any interesting concoctions? 

How To Add More Passion Into Your Life, Today!

Hot off the press: How To Add More Passion Into Your Life, Today!.

This is a great blog post from Around & About with NLOWE. You may be wondering what this has to do with Food Allergies …. ? Well, nothing actually. Mental health and wellbeing is an important topic to me and I thought this was a great post on finding more passion in your life. For me personally, exploring my passion in life is one of the key factors that has allowed me to regain control of my emotions and thoughts … it’s helped me to become more mentally fit. And most importantly, happy.

I added the term et cetera to the title of my blog so that it wouldn’t just restrict me to food allergies and dietary restrictions, so that I could explore other topics and share my life experiences and what I’ve learned along the way. Sneaky, huh? If you want to understand a little better about what my hopes and goals are for this blog, you can find various posts under the “Origins” category which will help paint a better picture.

If you feel like your life has been lacking passion lately, check out the above blog post link 🙂

FAE’s First Year (2012): An Annual Report Provided by WordPress!

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 2,400 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 4 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

Glutened, Days after attending Gluten Free Expo (… and no. it was unrelated)

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One of my favourite experiences from this year was travelling to Toronto to attend a Gluten-Free Expo (which I randomly became a last minute volunteer for)…. and I had a blast! You can read about it here.

My least favourite experience from this year? Getting “glutened” a few days later in the same city, during the same trip. Oh, the irony!

Luckily, getting glutened was totally independent of attending the Expo (…. Margaret & Ellen: if you are reading this, you can start breathing again 😉 ….. Margaret was the organizer and mastermind behind the expo and Ellen supported her remotely from BC. It was a pleasure to help them out during the event!).

Like I said, the Expo was amazing and I was very much looking forward to hanging around for a couple of extra days so that I could hang out with one of my BFF’s, Jenny, who had just returned from a trip to India.

Celiacs will go completely out of there way to go to a restaurant that has been identified as safe for Celiacs. I had consulted The Celiac Scene maps to look for a safe restaurant that had a brunch option for Jenny and I before we took on an afternoon of shopping. She had mentioned that there was a place called Mitzi’s that had gluten free options as far as she was aware. I remembered going there before I realized that gluten was making me sick and I remembered how delicious the food was so I agreed that we should definitely go there, even though Mitzi’s wasn’t showing up on The Celiac Scene. But I know that the “Scene” is only as good as those who actively contribute to it …. so if you’re in an area where there aren’t a lot of Celiacs using the Scene, then chances are you could miss out on a fantastic restaurant with safe options because there’s been no one to providing feedback to the Scene in order to get that restaurant on the list. Perhaps, I figured, this was why Mitzi’s wasn’t showing up on the list.

When we got there and I had a chance to peak at the menu, I was SOOOOOO excited to see Gluten Free Buckwheat Pancakes! Generally, I don’t get the luxury of having someone else make me gluten free pancakes, unless they are made by my guy in our kitchen at home. Better still, the pancake of the day was topped with an espresso cream, maple syrup, whipped cream, and pralines – HELLO DELICIOUSNESS!!

I was delighted! That is, until the waitress popped back to our table and said that the pancakes were actually made with oats. I asked if they were certified gluten-free and she said that she didn’t think so. I asked if I could see the package to have a look at the ingredient list. Turns out it was Quaker Rolled Oats and there was a “May Contain” statement for wheat.

I don’t know if I have Celiac Disease or not. It was suggested by my naturopath that I was sensitive to gluten and I immediately went on a gluten-free diet. It was amazing the difference after years of bloating and digestive discomfort. I later realized that you should be tested for Celiac Disease before going on a gluten-free diet because gluten needs to be present to cause the the inflammation in the small intestine in order to get a positive diagnosis. So, although I do not know if I have celiac disease, I have so many of the symptoms that I’m almost certain that I do. I eat as strictly as a Celiac does …. with the exception of this instant. I totally let me guard down. In hindsight, I was being absolutely naive.

When I saw the “may contain” statement, I thought “Oh, it’s probably just a liability disclaimer. It’s likely that it’s made in a totally separate area, but because they process wheat in the same building they have to list a May Contain statement” ….. I normally DO NOT eat anything with a “May Contain” statement but the idea of eating those buckwheat pancakes with the espresso cream and other delicious toppings made me let my guard down. I kept telling myself, “I’m sure it’ll be fine …. maybe just some light swelling of my belly”.

I ate the pancakes and they were DELICIOUS!! When I left, I noticed that my stomach was swollen and I felt very nauseated….. but my stomach didn’t feel like it was ripping apart like it normally does when I accidentally ingest gluten. So I thought perhaps there was very little trace of the wheat in the oats. Boy, was I wrong. At about 3:30 that afternoon all hell broken loose on my digestive system and I was back and fourth to the washroom off and on for hours afterwards. My stomach was still not 100% back to normal when I went to bed that night. I think this is a very likely sign that I do in fact have Celiac Disease.

So, it turns out that the Gluten-Free buckwheat pancakes were not actually not gluten-free at all. This is not the first time that I’ve been exposed to glutenous buckwheat breakfast items. I learned the hard way that the buckwheat crepes at Cora’s also contain wheat. In fact, first when I went gluten-free and was learning about all the things that I need to keep an eye out for it took me a while to clue in to the fact that the sausages that I was ordering contained gluten …. then I discovered that the breakfast potatoes were coated in a flour mixture. And after the third time going and coming home feeling nauseated and sick to my stomach, I decided to do a little googling. And sure enough, I found a Celiac Disease forum that stated that Cora’s buckwheat crepes actually contained wheat (despite wheat being in the name, buckwheat does not contain gluten). Every gluteneous mishap is another opportunity to learn from it. I learned a lot in the first few months of going gluten-free.

Because the food was so delicious, I wanted to provide suggestions to Mitzi’s so that they could improve their awareness of the dietary restrictions that surround Celiac Disease so that they could be a safe place for Celiacs and that we could get them added to the Scene. Here’s the suggestions (and pleas) that I emailed to them the next day:

  • PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE do not offer them to anyone who is Celiac or gluten intolerant/sensitive until you can take measures to ensure they are gluten-free (if you have to, Tell them that you ran out off your ingredients).
  • Purchase certified gluten-free oats.
  • Confirm if your buckwheat is gluten-free, if not, purchase one that is certified as gluten-free.
  • Ensure that any other toppings for the pancakes are gluten-free (for example, the pralines shouldn’t have a may contain statement).
  • Use a separate pan and separate spatula.
  • There’s a guide for food allergies available on the CRFA:http://www.crfa.ca/foodhealthyliving/#foodallergies . If you follow this link, it will take you to the guide on Restaurant Central (http://www.restaurantcentral.ca/FoodAllergiesGuide.aspx).
  • If you offer Gluten-free toast, don’t use the same toaster that you use for regular bread. Even if you use a convection heater, there’s still risk of cross-contamination. I found this statement on the restaurant guide for food allergies: 

Did you know: It is commonly believed that extreme heat during cooking will change the make-up of the food being prepared and remove the protein that can cause a reaction. This is not true. Cooking the food using extreme heat will not make the food safe for allergic individuals.

  • To help with toaster cross-contamination, you can get Toaster Bags, such as these: http://www.amazon.com/Set-NoStick-Toast-Toaster-Bags/dp/B0012XGM92 .
  • Be mindful of is crumbs in the butter and other condiment (such as mayo) containers. It’s best to use a separate container that’s designated as gluten-free and use a clean knife for cutting and spreading and a separate cutting board when slicing the bread (if it doesn’t already come sliced). I also recommend washing your hands and applying disposable gloves prior to handling the gluten-free bread.

I sent off my recommendations and feedback to the cook and the general email for the restaurant but I never did hear back from anyone. When I get a chance, I’ll call them up and see if they did implement any of my suggestions. I hope, for their sake and for mine that they do, so that I can enjoy another delicious meal when in Toronto and that we can recommend them to be added to the Scene.

I know there’s a bit of a learning curve when it come’s to gluten-free knowledge so I’m willing to give a second chance if I know that an establishment has taken the necessary measures to make positive changes. There is only one place that I have boy-cotted and that’s because I became sick for the third time after ordering a supposedly gluten-free item. Hence my adopted rule of thumb:

Gluten-me once: Shame on You. Gluten-me twice: Shame on Me. Gluten-me a third time and it’s automatic blacklist, buddy.

One thing that I’ve learned over the past year and a bit is that you can never be too safe when it comes to dining out gluten-free (or with any restriction for that matter). There’s no such thing as too many questions when it comes to your health and wellbeing. And such experiences reinforce the need (and my desire) to start Etcetera …. a safe-haven restaurant for people with food allergies and other dietary restrictions! 🙂

Cheers,
Krista 🙂

Grand Plans … Too Busy … and There’s Another Go-To-Girl in Town …

I have grand plans for this blog. Grand. But finding the time to work on blog posts when you’re guy has (appropriately) coined you with the nickname “Little Miss Busy” can be difficult. My guy always tells me that I take on too much. But being busy and helping others is what makes me happy 🙂

Eventually I’ll find my groove when it comes to maintaining a balance on my work and life commitments, so that I can work on my goals for the blog and I’ll truly be successful with maintaining my title of “Go-To-Gates” (as explained in the My Intentions post). But in the meantime, I discovered that there already is a Go-To-Girl living in St. John’s who has been able to find the time to write regular product and restaurant reviews AND has been doing so since January of this year. At first I was a little discouraged that I wasn’t able to find the time to be as active as Janelle, and I felt like I wasn’t worthy of the Go-To title when it comes to living gluten-free in St. John’s. But then I realized that I didn’t have to be the sole local Go-To-Girl and even if we did, at some point, blog about the same product, restaurant or topic …… that no one has ever said “No, I’d hate a second opinion”.

So with that, I’ll send you over to Janelle’s blog, conveniently titled Living Gluten Free in St. John’s, Newfoundland where you’ll find reviews galore.

Happy Reading!!

How Our Wedding Indirectly Inspired Food Allergies Etcetera

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In a nutshell:

Wedding. Depression. Medical Leave (for said Depression). A Restaurant Idea. A trip to Winners. An online Business Plan Course. A Blog.

So exactly how are all of these related, you may ask?

Up until we got engaged, I dreaded the thought of getting married – I would shutter at the thought of a traditional wedding. I like being unique and true to myself ….. a real roadblock when it comes to a traditional event. Once I realized that I was ready to get married, I decided that I would plan the wedding just the way that we wanted it: relaxed, fun, bright and colourful – and just as much about showing others a good time as having a good time ourselves.

I had so much fun planning our wedding. And the day turned out perfect! It truly was an awesome day, not only for us, but for everyone who attended. It was so awesome in fact, that OffbeatBride.com did a feature on our wedding story. Please read our story here so that you get a bit of the background story of how our wedding led to Food Allergies Etcetera. As you would have come to learn from the “What was the most important lesson you learned from your wedding?” section, it was after our wedding that I realized that I need to be more creative and be able to work on something that I’m truly passionate about. At the time I realized that my current job wasn’t igniting a passion in me like I had come to realize that I needed. For a while I felt quite lost…. To the point that I stooped into a deep depression. Realizing that I had a very comfortable life, a well paid job with security, and the fact that I wasn’t satisfied with it made me feel like I was being a spoiled brat who couldn’t be grateful for what was placed in front of me. And these negative, self-defeating thoughts (which were fueled by the depression) only caused me to sink even further into depression. It was a very nasty cycle. But a secretive one at that. There were few who I had let in on my dark little disease, until it got so bad that I had a severe enough mental breakdown to make me not mentally or physically fit enough to continue working (I’d had many mini-breakdowns almost annually for the past several years, but none were of this severity). My doctor had written me off on medical leave for a month. I hadn’t dreamed that I would have lasted for two full months.

While I was on sick leave my doctor had started me on a mild anti-depressant. I had no idea what I was in for in that first month. I knew there would be side-effects but didn’t realize that I would have zero energy during the day while unable to sleep at night. Sleeping was one of those things that I said that I did best. Now, all of a sudden I wasn’t even good at that anymore. But I was told that I would feel worse before I felt better while waiting for my body to adjust to the meds. In the beginning I could barely pull myself from the couch I felt so bad. I’d spend my days alternating between playing iPhone games, scanning through Facebook, and imagining a restaurant where I could go to eat that catered to people with food allergies so that I didn’t have to worry about getting sick. What a wonderful place that would be! If only it existed 😦

Once I hit the 1month mark, I had a follow-up appointment with my doctor. I figured she was going to suggest that I was well enough to return to work (I was starting to adjust to the medication, after all). To my surprise, she said that I was only just starting to adjust to my meds and that it’s not until week 7, 8 or even 9 before I could expect to feel the full effect of the medication. I walked in feeling a bit stressed about the idea of returning to work, but walked out more relaxed because I knew I still had more time to adjust to my medication, as well as focus on some self-awareness/self-help reading. One of the books that I read while I was off was “Be Your Own Life Coach” by Jeff Archer. I found this book to be very helpful.

One day when I was feeling a bit better I decided to take trip to the mall to do some errands. I decided to pop into Winners to check out (what I jokingly call) the “Freaky People” aisle (the one with all the Gluten-Free, natural/organic products). Once I was in the store and was on my way to my aisle, I happened to walk past the kitchenware section. My eye caught a glimpse of a “Happy Blue” metal stacked dessert stand and I thought “That would look fantastic in a restaurant ….. I should buy that”

…… I could swear that I heard a record needle fall off of it’s record at that exact moment. I didn’t have a restaurant!! What was I thiking?!?

It was like I had an epiphany. That idea that I was dreaming up in my head for that restaurant that I was dying for to open, the one that catered to people with food allergies – maybe this was my sign that I was meant to be that person to open it! And with that, I found my passion. My drive. I couldn’t stop talking about my idea. And people were starting to notice how excited about it I was. My hair stylist once commented to me, after going on and on about it for a half hour, that “I haven’t seen you this excited since you were planning your wedding. And your eyes light up the same way when you talk about it!” Her comment not only made me smile, it also made me feel warm and tingly on the inside …. Like a sign that this is the direction that I am supposed to move in. When I think of my future restaurant, I see a world of colour and happiness. And content. 🙂

So, knowing that I couldn’t just jump into the restaurant business, I decided to take my leave from work to complete an online course on writing a successful business plan. And also to learn what dietary restrictions local people have and the challenges that they are faced with when trying to eat out – ergo, the Food Allergies Etcetera blog. 🙂

At the end of the 2 month leave, I returned to work on an ease-back period. My responsibilities were altered after it was realized that it was the area of work that I was previously doing that was causing such a personality clash for me. I could do the line of work, but it was such a stretch for my personality and natural line of thought that it was draining the life out of me. I was so good at hiding what I was going through that no one at my place of work had the slightest idea of how much I was suffering, mentally. After my leave I was honest with them and they were able to modify my scope so that I was working on projects that came more naturally to me. As a result, I’m back to working full time and enjoying it, but I’m still working on my blog in my spare time. Eventually, I hope to develop my restaurant idea, find someone to manage it for me, and put my plan in motion. Until then, I’m going to continue blogging and help those around the city find places that give them delicious options, despite having dietary restrictions. And I’ll continue to dream up colourful ideas for my restaurant, “Etcetera”! 🙂

Copyright: Charla Maarschalk – Charla.ca

Where, oh where, have my little posts gone?

You may be thinking: “Doesn’t a blog require you to be actively posting updates?”

Well …. yes. But I’ve been quite busy. Let me explain.

I know that its been nearly 2 months since my last post. Considering that I have a Monday – Friday 8 -5 (but most often 5:30/6) day job, by the time that I get home, make supper, walk my dog, get a shower and prep my meals for the next day – I rarely have time to get anything else done. In addition to my work I’ve also been maintaining the Food Allergies Etcetera Facebook Page, been developing a file of useful links and dining/purchasing spots for locals with food allergies and restrictions, started volunteering with the local chapter of the Canadian Celiac Association and now maintain their Facebook Page, reading “Celiac For Dummies” that I received when I signed up for the Canadian Celiac Association, meeting with a local graphic designer to develop a logo for FAE, as well as working on a weekly personal creative project.

If that isn’t a good enough excuse, I’ll admit that I’m still trying to figure out how to navigate WordPress and I’ve been hesitant to sit and attempt to tackle a post unless I knew that I had more than enough ample time.

Despite the lack of any posts, Ive been very excited to be doing background work for the blog and I’m constantly mentally noting what I want to achieve with this project and have several post ideas queued up in my head already. Tonight I sat down and picked out a new theme for the FAE blog. For those of you who personally know me ….. would you be surprised to discover that the name of the theme is “FUNKI THEME” ? I think it’s going to look fantastic with the logo that’s being developed for FAE. I can’t wait to meet with the graphic designer again to finalize it!! 🙂

During my lunch breaks, I’ll sometimes go next door to the Atlantic Place deck, or walk up to the War Memorial garden on Water/Duckworth Street and read from my Celiac Disease for Dummies book. I’ve been gluten free for over a year now, and I had figured out a lot of the info already but I am picking up a few new details here and there, or learning of the diagnosis process. Unfortunately I went gluten free on the advise of my naturopath and didn’t realize that I should have been tested prior to going GF. I’ve been assuming that I am Celiac (and live as though I am), but do not want to go back on a gluten diet to prove it. I am planning on getting genetic testing completed once I find time as the more I read the Dummies book the more I discover that I have a lot of signs pointing to the fact that I do in fact have Celiac Disease. If my genetic test comes back negative, I’d be highly surprised. I also suspect that one, if not two of my parents might also suffer from Celiac Disease based on the related conditions outlined in the book (more on this to come in one of my next posts!).

I also spend time usually once a week responding to messages asking about places around town to eat, or general info related to living gluten free or living naturally, etc. Every time I do get a message looking for help or info based on what I’ve learned thus far, it ignites a sense of excitability that cannot be explained. Being associated as a go-to-girl for tips and info on living with food allergies/restrictions (and living naturally) in St. John’s has been one of my greatest accomplishments to date!

I’d love to hear the types of topics that you’d like to see on this blog. And I promise that within the week I’ll have the next post up. I’m super excited to get going!

My Intentions

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When I started my first job post-university, I was given the nickname “GTG” by one of my co-workers. He said that if there was anything that he didn’t know about where to find a particular answer, where to possibly look, who to go see to get the answer, etc., I would be able to give him an answer to these questions. He called me “Go-To-Gates” (my maiden name is Gates). And this wasn’t the only case where I was known as the go-to girl. There was a student who sat in a cubicle next to me, who was always amazed that I could immediately tell him what the problem was and how to fix it when he ran into problems with his Microsoft Office documents. He often joked that he feared when he got out into the real world that his productivity would significantly drop if I wasn’t there to quickly tell him how to fix the problem he was having. Why did I always know what his problem was and how to fix it so fast? Because I had run into the same problem as him at one time, searched until I found a solution, and filed it away in my head. I had been there, had done that, (was able to remember) and wanted to share the solution.

At work, I find great satisfaction in finding out information and sharing it with people in a manner that they can understand. The same goes with my personal life as for my professional life. When it comes to food allergies, I’ve found some of the answers that I’ve been looking for. I still have a lot to find. But in the process, I want to be able to help those who are several steps behind me. I want to provide the information that I’ve discovered so that they don’t have to spend a vast amount of time and effort searching for the same answers that I’ve found. I want to be able to help them find a way forward that works for them.

Not only do I enjoy sharing information, but I also enjoy organizing/filing it in such a manner that it’s easy for me to recall.

So here is how I intend to structure/organize my blog:

  • Origins (a continuation of posts on how I got to this point and how the blog evolved)
  • Food Allergies
  • Dietary Restrictions due to Illness (other than allergies)
  • Natural Living
  • Mental Wellbeing
  • Restaurant Info/Reviews
  • Product Info/Reviews
  • Product Recalls
  • Retail Locations
  • Resources

All posts will fall into these categories. There may be some refinement over time, but I think this arrangement should provide people with a good source of Go-To information 🙂