Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Power of Word

"It's positive? ...Are you sure?... Man..."

I am fairly sure that this was my rather anti-theatrical reply to Mom's voice on the phone-- "Positive. You have celiac disease... sorry, hon. Welcome to the party. "

"Positive" is the word of the day, and let me just tell you--that word is not just one end of the magnet anymore. I was diagnosed just less than two months ago, so the wound is fresh enough to consider the implications that the diagnosis has had in my small existence.


I hear there are several stages of grief--denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.


In the first few weeks of being labeled with that hateful word, I went from acceptance to bargaining to anger, then to depression to anger to denial to anger to bargaining to acceptance and back to anger.

Lots of anger. Not that I ask, "Why me?" or "How could this happen?" No, my thoughts focus on more pressing matters, like "SO NOW IT'S FUNNY TO LEAVE THE BREAD IN PLAIN VIEW, RIGHT ON THE COUNTER?!" and, "IF I SEE ANOTHER FLOUR TORTILLA, SOMEONE'S GONNA BE SEEING FLOUR TORTILLAS INTO NEXT WEEK." These examples are, erm, mild, compared to the pure frustration that occurs when your whole schema of "things that are edible" has been turned upside down (and shaken, and then blended on the "puree" setting for two days).

I never really went through Denial, because I have known for a while that there was a chance I'd be labeled with that terrible word, positive. The Bargaining phase again, is not much of an issue, because even an accidental slip in my absolutely gluten-free diet takes me down-and-out, so why on earth would I bring it on by cheating on purpose?

Depression, though. Wow.

This disease makes every meal a trial, every snack is a challenge and even opening the pantry cupboard is hard. I've spent time sitting on the grocery store floor bawling and clutching a package of Saltines to my chest. Afterward I felt refreshed and very silly and I dry my tears, and began anew--crying that is, as I spy the packaged cake mix and cereal shelves.

My mom has been diagnosed (again with that word, "positive") for a few years, so celiac disease was never a foreign idea to me, but some aspects of this disease have been... surprising. Not the good, happy-birthday-we-got-you-balloons kind of surprise, more like the horrible, the-birthday-clown-is-hiding-in-the-closet-with-a-chainsaw kind of surprise.

I never expected, for instance, the social isolation. It's amazing how connecting food is, and how divisive a food allergy be. No more pizza night, lunch with the girls, or dinner-and-a-movie. Food has a leveling capacity, a connective comaraderie and not being able to share the taste experience is akin to social starvation.

I also never considered that food is really a part of your identity. "Positive," and never again can you honestly tell someone your favorite ice cream flavor--because your favorite is now off-limits. "Positive," and your favorite restaurants are, similarly, history, as are your favorite snacks, dishes, ethnic foods, and desserts. "Positive," and suddenly, your every thought has to center around what you can and cannot eat and how to get more of one and reduce your proximity to the other.

Most of all, I hate that celiac disease forces me to act against my inate nature. Relaxed, anti-confrontational, service-oriented Dia has to worry about contamination, whine about crumbs, and first and foremost, take care of me --and it's driving me crazy. I can't be easygoing and share freely and let others use my food or utensils-- I have to be picky and obsessive, I have to scrub down counters before I cook, I have to scrutinize label after label after label. It seems like my care-free nature is being taken over by this needy, whiny, worrying MONSTER that was created, again, by that word "Positive."

Just one word. One word with all the implications, complications, and power in the world.

One word that had me actually considering, at a recent family party, how terrible it really could be if I were to snatch that barely tasted piece of gluten-free carrot cake off the pile of plates that was headed to the trash... Obviously some philistine does not recognize this priceless treasure, and they have decided that it was a bit too dry or dense or sweet for their taste, and they chucked it without a second thought!! The temptation was strong--

but I'm proud to say that I did not go dumpster diving that day (athough if I had, it would have been worth it).

To end on a "positive" note (I swear the pun was unintentional), I'm learning to deal with this new part of me. I am trying new things, bettering my cooking skills, and experiencing a new challenge. I am growing in my struggles and refusing to give up.

I'm learning how to be positive.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Ratio of Vanilla Pudding to Confetti Cake

I have an announcement.

Recently, I made a scientific breakthrough that will have lasting impact on the entire world. Its reach will be epic, its effect, legendary. My breakthrough will spark new research and revolutionize culinary experimentation. It will change the face of food and science as we know it!!!

This is it:


All food is not created equal.

I know, I know what you're saying! Many are screeching, "Oh course not! I'd rather eat strawberries than ludefisk any day!" Some are arguing, "All food serves a common purpose in the end, so what's the difference?!" Others of you are yelling, "What the heck IS ludefisk?"

Let me explain.

I realize that some food tastes better than other food (of course), and that some food is more palatable than other food (duh), and that no one really knows what ludefisk is (even the Norwegians). The realization that I, erm, realized, is that there are RIDICULOUS, scientifically-proven inequalities between some foods.

For instance, pudding and confetti cake.

For just a moment (and for the sake of my grade), let me attempt to persuade you with ethos. I am a registered, dyed-in-the-blue expert on the ratio of pudding to cake, because I am also a registered, diagnosed celiac. I have had field experience, hands-on practice, and personal encounters with this most specialized of subjects--I live with five wheat-lovin' girls.

You're still not convinced? Logos uses facts, so let me share with you the statistics that have been gathered from field research:

In one test alone, the subject consumed nearly five billion packages of vanilla pudding when faced with one gilamogram of frosted confetti cake.

In a closely related test in which the subject was denied a mere tablespoon of Cap'n Crunch, she decimated about eight hundred Yoplait yogurt containers--plastic, and all.

In a final test, which is now under close review by the Board of Ethical Experimentation, the subject was denied one slice of pizza, and consequently devoured six bowls of grits, twelve cold baked potatoes, eight gallons of milk, seventeen entire blocks of mozzarella cheese, half of New York and--dare we print it?-- one slice of Spam.

The facts are undeniable, but if you still do not believe, let me continue with the most powerful "toolbox" of all--pathos.

The green, rectangular container on the counter seemed to be calling to me.

"Dia," it said, "I'm delicious."

It was 11:36 on a Sunday night, and I was sitting at the kitchen table, alone.


The confetti cake sat there, unapologetically, in all its glory. It had been placed on the "off limits" contertop (the one from which the toaster crumbs mock me every morning), but its teasing, tempting smell filled the entire apartment. The lid of the container was ajar, and through the crack, one could glimpse gooey frosting, delicately browned edges and golden flecks of fluffy cake in places where the decadent dessert had already been sliced. It had called all day long, unceasingly, unrepentantly, in those radiant, heavenly tones, and sleep was no respite--even my dreams were filled with that delectable, fobidden creation. Now, it had called me from bed, and there I sat, late at night, at the kitchen table.



There was only one chance for me.

I began the familiar ritual (this would be the fourth time in two hours). Container. Spoon. 2 cups of cold milk. 1 packet of instant vanilla pudding.

About 15 seconds...

Perfect. Well, not quite perfect, because of my breakthrough--all food is not created equal.
Though my vanilla pudding is gluten-free, delicious, fast, and creamy, it lacks one thing...

It's not confetti cake.


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Missed the Boat... or rather, the rice-paper plane

My pulse was running too fast and tiny sweat droplets hung on the edges of my makeup. My breath was coming a little quickly, in small gulps, and it seemed the silk kimono I wore was made out of lead. My black wig seemed to constrict as my heart beat the mantra, "You can do it, you can do it" through heavy veins in my temples. It was hot under the lights, but I'm sure my thirteen year old self was reacting to the psychological rather than physical stress.

It was eighth grade, the school musical, and this was the opening performance.

"The Mikado" is a clever, light-hearted operetta that pokes fun at love and hate, peons and authority, ignorance, knowledge, Japan, Britain... and everything in between. The Gilbert-and-Sullivan favorite is set in Japan, where a Lord High Executioner must kill someone within the month, his ward and fiancee Princess Yum Yum falls in love with a trombone player, and said trombone player offers his life for said execution if he can marry said princess for said month---and that's just the first act! It turns out that the trombone player is actually the son of the Mikado (the emperor of Japan), the Lord High Execution does not have the guts to kill anyone, and Princess Yum Yum is a complete flake--and if that isn't exciting enough, let's throw in the acting, dancing and singing!!

A surefire hit, right?

The first performance was an 11 am matinee for the 6th and 7th graders, and we did wonderfully! We did NOT forget the one line about the stuffy death, the Mikado's throne did NOT break into pieces, and the girl-squeamish and 4-foot-nothing trombone player, Nanki-Poo (no lie) did not ACTUALLY throw up when he had to "embrace" me--the dumber than dumb Yum Yum. (I'll never live it down... ).

It flopped.

The audience simply didn't get it. The jokes were too intellectual, the singing was too cryptic, the witticisms were too, well, witty. The meaning, feeling and point were lost. Even though we did our best, we neglected to keep in mind the age, ability, and level of comprehension of our audience--and that was the fatal mistake. I mean, let's face it: any musical with the song, "Tit Willow", that mentions a "dicky bird" should NOT be shown to a bunch of tweens.

That night we had a full house of parents, aged 30 to 60, and my! what a difference. To hear an audience "get it" is truly one of the greatest feelings a bunch of awkward eighth graders can experience. The lines got laughs, the high notes were appreciated, and the feel was definitely, finally, conveyed--from stage to audience and back again.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Sur le Meme Chose


Her voice rose again, now broadcasting our plight to the entire Parisean restaurant.

"Oui, sans pan," I replied through my teeth. I was starting to lose my cool as I stood behind the counter and watched the large, black, completely offended French woman throw up her arms in the air--again.


"C'est ne pas difficile. Construit un sandwich, avec beuf, avec fromage, mais sans pan!"
My voice was beginning to rise, almost matching the already blaring level of her own. It was not that hard: my brother could not have wheat. All I needed was a burger without the bun.

This woman had had enough. With several resounding shakes of her head and sweeps of her gigantic arms, she gave the ultimatum:
"Nous ne peuvons pas a constuire un sandwich sans pan. Non".

That was it, then. "We cannot make a sandwich without bread"--it seemed to be France's national motto. We were in the city of food, and we had searched all morning outside the Louvre for something--anything--that my gluten-free brother could eat.

The French love their bread; every meal is centered around this epitome of the dining experience. Breakfast is pastries or a baguette with all the fixings, lunch comes over or inside "pan", dinner is always--you guessed it-- bread. We had passed cafe after cafe that day only to see the usual fair, charmingly written on blackboards--"croque monsieur, sandwich jambon, sandwich beuf". The ability to read and speak the language did me no good without the means of really communicating our desperation.

The culture was deaf to "just make it 'sans pan' "; it was like telling an American, "No apple pie for me, thanks", or actually, more like "Hey, can I blow my nose on your flag?"

When we had spied the McDonald's sign, we literally took pictures of ourselves pointing at it, we were so excited to finally find a restaurant where we could easily alter the choices to make them gluten-free.

Now, our hopes were falling as flat as a badly-cooked souffle.

Angry, exhausted, and just plain at the end of my options, I took a deep breath and set my teeth--probably to keep from crying. My brother, anti-confrontational angel that he is, kept insisting in a low, frantic whisper that he was fine, he wasn't hungry, don't worry about it.

I looked the infuriating woman in the eye and began again.

"D'accord. Donnez-moi les fruits, le yaourt-- deux yaourt..."

Slowly, carefully, I ordered each of the things on the menu that I knew my brother could eat. Fruit, yogurt, orange juice, ice cream--fat and sugar, absolutely not adequate fare for a constantly-famished, growing teenage boy romping through Paris from morning to night, but it would have to do for right now.

The Parisean, calmed by this apparent armistice in the attack upon her culture, took the order and got us our lunch. I think she was a little embarrassed by her obstinacy, as was I. By the end of the transaction, we at least both offered a "merci," and a subsequent "de rien"--
and I think we both learned something.

Me, that speaking the language (sorta) doesn't necessarily mean you can communicate, and that being louder doesn't necessarily make you more correct-- and she, that this was one battle France could and would win.

I now recognize that culture separated our viewpoints; but common humanity really, and basic human needs--hunger--finally brought us to, if not agreement, at least a middle ground.

My French teacher would be so proud.


Sunday, September 7, 2008

Thomas S. Monson's introductory address

I really enjoy listening to Thomas S. Monson. He introduced the 178th General Conference with an address about the temples that have recently been dedicated and those that will be built soon. His choice of words and use of various rhetoric strategies helped to make his words memorable and interesting.
For example, when describing his experience in Idaho where he prayed that the rain would not ruin the celebrations for the temple, President Monson described Heavenly Father as "honor[ing]" his entreaty. He chose this specific phrase instead of a more general, "It didn't rain" or even "my prayer was answered." President Monson made Heavenly Father the active character and revealed to us a special aspect of prayer in his phrase--"HE honored that prayer."

President Monson also utilized repetition in some of his remarks. This is a great tool in oral rhetoric, especially, because the audience realizes that a list is coming, and they can focus on the aspects of the list rather than refocusing each time an aspect is given. President Monson said, "Some of you are just joining the church, we welcome you!" and "Some of you are struggling... we love and pray for you" rather than, "There have been baptisms, and I welcome those new members" and Some people in the church struggle through addictions, and the leaders here want to let you know that we are praying for and love you."

I love Conference. I know that we are offered the blessings of the word of God in General Conference. I didn't get to watch very much of this General Conference, because I was at the Saint George Marathon and I was ill, but I greatly look forward to watching and reading all of the sessions online and in the Ensign in the coming days and weeks.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Mung Beans--Life's Little Pleasures.

I have a plastic bag in my closet. It's filled with odd, round, grayish-green... things. They're hard enough to shoot through a BB gun, and I'm sure my roommate thinks I'm crazy for keeping them...

But that's all about to change.

Well, sorta.

Mung beans are on the menu for today, so now these boring nodules get to (literally) come to life!!

I dump them out of their plastic prison into a cup of water and leave that cup in the dark for a day or two. Then I rinse them and put them back into the dark.

After a few days of warm darkness, these little lifeless blobs have doubled in size and sprouted... well, sprouted. Each bean has a white, inch-long growth which bears some resemblance to that single chin hair on your smooth-headed, hairy eared, great great grandma.

"...and you're going to eat that thing...?" My roommate, I'm sure, is still incredulous, but mung beans (or any bean, nut, or seed, when sprouted) are delicious and GREAT for you. New sprouts contain living enzymes, which help your body get the amino acids and other chemicals it needs to help you get to class and work (and homework, and to that date, and...) day after day after day.

As I throw them on my salad, into my smoothie or just straight up into my mouth, I marvel at the simple potential of these itty-bitty beans. You would never think that such a little, worthless-looking thing could contain such room for growth and life.

Sometimes, I look at myself and see a little, drab, greenish-gray BEAN. I need to realize the divine potential I have. I may spend a couple days (or weeks) in darkness, but I know that eventually, growth will come from my trials or weaknesses.

What would happen if I let go of my mortally inadequate viewpoint (from the depths of my little cup of water) and trust Him--the only one who knows how much I can grow?