28 March 2014

On Going Gluten-Free...ish

I am mere pages from the end of The Victorian City, and what a fascinating read it has been, but the time between posts has been far too long so this is my tidbit offering in the meantime.

Several months ago I shared my arduous and utterly frustrating experience with two frozen shoulders.  What I didn't disclose was that last summer, my juvenile arthritis that had gone into remission forty years ago seemed to rear its ugly head once again.  As swiftly as turning on a light switch I was fine one day and the next morning when I went to bend down to play with Deacon my knees felt as though they were swollen with fluid.  The pain that I thought was a case of stiff hamstrings was the lead-up to my hips becoming ever more stiff.  Great.  In a matter of days I had gone from having two dysfunctional joints to six and while I was a youthful and active fifty year old woman my body was acting as though it was ready for a nursing home....or had been hit by a massive truck.

Attitude is everything and thankfully I have always been a 'glass half full' sort of person.  I never missed a day of work and through months and months of pain and frustration I only welled-up three times with pity for myself in such a pathetic state.  Waking up a dozen times a night to get more comfortable forced me into the spare room before my husband got to be as sleep-deprived as I was.  My iPod got me through stages of sleeplessness and pain and I highly recommend podcasts for taking your mind off of pain in the middle of the night.  Things were looking rather bleak.  Then a case of serendipity played out.

Last September, a new employee was scheduled to work with with me at the library.  After the initial pleasantries she mentioned that she wasn't feeling all that well and had had a rough night...all down to one Smartie.  Victoria had been diagnosed as having celiac disease in childhood and was vigilant about keeping gluten out of her diet.  Trying one Smartie while out with friends was enough to cause stomach pain so it's a good thing she didn't overindulge but who knew there was gluten in Smarties?  I had always assumed gluten was something that was produced through kneading dough or in batters with vigorous beating.  Wrong....well, right and wrong.  Victoria told me about learning the hard way that it's in soya sauce as well as a man-made product.  We talked about the food industry off and on over the next few hours and when I mentioned my arthritis pain and how much I dreaded the powerful drugs to help control it she suggested I try eliminating gluten, or at least wheat, from my diet for one month before seeing my doctor.

I don't know about you but where I work there were a few women who seemed to always be trying the latest fad eating trend.  The rest of us playfully gave them a hard time as we ate brownies with abandon during our staff meetings and enjoyed seconds of cake brought into the staff room.  Now I was about to become one of them and it was sort of embarrassing.  That first evening, standing in front of the pantry with my hands on my head I was completely dumbfounded about what I could have for dinner and then the thought of no marmalade on toast the next morning was disappointing to say the least.  The want, no...desperation, to lessen my pain was far greater than the need for toast, or cinnamon wheat square cereal.  Oh, and I have to mention...in for a penny, in for a pound...I gave up dairy as well.  Once I started reading about foods with inflammatory properties it was a no-brainer.

My first cup of tea with almond milk was interesting but after a week the look of despair disappeared from my face after the first sip.  The soup pot was out constantly and my husband would help me ladle spoonfuls into freezer bags for down the road.  If the oven went on for a roast I would grab a couple of sweet potatoes to bake as well...and a squash, or anything other veggie that was handy.  My knees had swelled quite badly after enjoying some bruschetta at a restaurant so the nightshade foods were out as well.  No tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant; the list was getting longer.

So did the change help?  After one week of removing wheat and dairy from my diet the stiffness that had begun in my left hand disappeared.  My knees and hips were still sore but at least I was being proactive and the research distracted me from what I couldn't do, this change empowered me and kept me from going mad and losing hope.  My doctor is only a couple of years older than I am and while she was previously a bit too quick with the prescription pad she was very supportive of my endeavour to try and do what I could to heal, or at least help, myself through diet.  She even suggested adding curcumin supplements to my plan of action.  Beware though, when you take this your t-shirt will carry the musky scent of a leftover curry dinner should you work up a sweat!  We also chatted about what I had learned about menopause affecting connective tissue and could my troubles be connected with a drop in estrogen?  The body is a weird and wonderful thing but a little more wonderful would be nice.  She has given me until the end of May to decide what happens next.

My new physio-therapist has been heaven-sent.  After my initial assessment she is treating me as having two strained rotator cuffs and tight trapezius and is suspicious that bi-lateral frozen shoulder was ever the problem although the two diagnoses mimic each other in symptoms.  Whatever the case, she started me off with nine stretches and one month later has me doing fifteen different stretches with great success!  Each week Dorothy gets a kick out of my jubilant stories of being able to reach into the Tupperware cupboard and root around without pain, pull the car door shut without grimacing or reach behind my head to pull out the extra pillow.  Never take mobility for granted!  With Dorothy's help I am quite sure that my shoulders will be almost as good as new by the end of April.  If there has been any sort of link between the inflammation in my upper body causing my knnes and hips to act up then hopefully I will be seeing the backside of that as well.  But if I do have to face my future with arthritis then at least I am doing my utmost to hold its worst effects at bay and stay strong.  

Tying my health update up to include a book review I have to say that Gwyneth Paltrow's recipe book It's All Good  is absolutely fantastic if you are trying a gluten-free or vegan lifestyle.  After the fifth delicious recipe that worked out perfectly I returned my library copy and bought my own.  Cleo's Afternoon Shake tastes like a liquid Snicker's bar if you need something decadent but healthy in the late afternoon and her recipe for Japanese Meatballs was a hit the other night; my husband kept going on about how good they were the next day for lunch.  My lunch today is going to be Roasted Cauliflower and Chickpeas with Mustard and Parsley.  In a strange way, rather than being a challenge, eating gluten and dairy-free has opened up so many avenues and introduced me to all sorts of new foods.  My husband wasn't as thrilled about tempeh burgers from a local vegan restaurant as I was though but he's a good sport for trying.

The title of this post is On Going Gluten-Free...ish and I say 'ish' because while the elimination of wheat in my diet is a definite I have no doubt there is still gluten lurking in many of the products I use as condiments or dips but we're trying.  One last thing to add, and it's a big one, when you hear about the 'brain fog' that comes with eating wheat - it's a reality.  There is a clarity in my thinking now that wasn't quite there before and who knows, perhaps it's what I am putting into my body rather than what is being left out, all I know is that I have experienced it for myself and it's all good.

3 March 2014

The Gipsy's Baby by Rosamond Lehmann

When Rosamond Lehmann's brother, John, asked her to contribute a few short stories for a monthly periodical he was editing, the timing was far from perfect.  World War II was being waged, her second marriage had failed a few years earlier, and she had two young children to look after.  On the other hand, this tumultuous backdrop along with memories of her childhood made for bountiful scenes of everyday life, enough to fill The Gipsy's Baby with five short stories to sink into and ponder.

The story that lends its name to the title of the book is told through the eyes of young Rebecca Ellison.  Her family is well-enough off to afford the small pleasures in life whereas the Wyatt family further along the lane live in squalor.  Mrs Wyatt is a haggard woman, worn out from years of childbearing, housework and doing without but '...in the middle of each hollow cheek was a stain of rose, like one live petal left on a dead flower'.  The house is falling down around them but Mr Wyatt doesn't seem very bothered.  Reminiscent of Katherine Mansfield's The Dollhouse the less advantaged Wyatt children gain an invitation to have tea at Rebecca and Sylvia's house.  When they arrive it's not the bounty of food that widens their eyes but the toys and fancy dresses locked away in Mrs. Ellison's closet.  When caught out by the nursemaid, Rebecca burns with humiliation.

The Red-Haired Miss Daintreys is pure Englishness.  Once again the story is told through Rebecca's eyes when her family become friends with the Daintrey family while on holiday at a seaside hotel.  The four sisters all have red hair in common and stand over six feet in height.  Each has a distinctive personality though.  Miss Mildred is the unselfish one, Miss Viola shines as the beauty but Lehmann describes her as having a ',,,long curving goitrous neck.  Miss Rosie is the athletic one but much to the detriment of her now over-developed calves.  Poor Miss Dollie is weak-minded for being dropped when she was born.  There are two older siblings but while Arthur has been married for five years, sadly there are no children - 'not even a Disappointment'.  I have never never heard of a miscarriage being referred to that way before and I have to say it made me laugh.  The last line in the story says it all 'There will be no more families in England like the Daintreys'.

The next three stories show a slice of life in rural England during the World War II and I loved them.  Mrs Ritchie lives in a cottage with her son, John, and daughter, Jane.  Rosamond Lehmann freely admits that she didn't disguise herself very well in the writing.  Wnen the Waters Came eerily duplicates the sort of winter we're having this year with everything covered in ice at first and then the dreadful flooding that follows a thaw.  In A Dream of Winter Mrs Ritchie lies in bed suffering with influenza.  From her bed she watches through the window as the bee man removes a portion of roof to access a swarm of bees that have been humming through the walls for far too long.  It's the most fun John and Jane have had in ages as they climb the ladder to peek into their mother's room.  Ever the gentleman, John tucks his sister's bloomers into her kilt before her climb.  Wonderful Holidays is absolutely packed with storylines - everything from a horse with colic that requires turning every four hours to Jane's missing school trunk.  The poor thing is stuck wearing her only decent outfit for days on end while there is an investigation as to what could have possibly gone wrong.  In one hilarious scene Mrs Ritchie comees upon Jane wearing her friend's old skating costume as a change of clothes.  And then the vicar rings...

"'But I say, though! - beastly lot they're turning out everywhere to-day - public schools and all.  Damned impudent swearing young brutes.  All smoking like chimneys.  Girls just as bad.  If not worse.  Vile lot.  It's all the fault of the parents.  What goes on in the homes nowadays?  Nothing but beastly language - that's all they hear.  What can you expect?  It's a filthy outlook.  I say, look here, there's another damned nuisance coming on us.  Book drive in June, or some such rot.  Who ever heard of a book drive?  Heard of a whist drive, never heard of a book drive.'"

Mrs Carmichael has some drama when her little dog, Puffles, goes missing but eventually returns from a day of hunting with a canine friend of bad influence...

'"Oh, what a bad bad naughty boy!  And a good good boy to come home before dark.  Does he want his dindin?"
Mrs Carmichael flew to fetch it for him.  Wagging frenziedly, he devoured it, then, still wagging, took a hearty draught of water from his bowl, and retired to his basket to lick his paws.
"He gets his poor paws so sore," said Mrs Carmichael.  
"That beastly Airdale he goes hunting with makes him do all the digging...."'

That last sentence made me burst out laughing and says that the author had a wicked sense of humour.  By the end of these stories I had completely warmed up to Rosamond Lehmann and put aside the angst I had for her - after all, her meddling into Elizabeth Bowen's affair with Goronwy Rees ended that relationship and friends of mine will know where my loyalties lie.  I'm willing to put that all aside now and read more of Lehmann's work and hunt down the biography written by Selina Hastings.  That's me clearing space on a shelf for more books!  If you are a fan of Jan Struther's Mrs Miniver and its charm then I can just about guarantee you will really enjoy this collection every bit as much.