Saturday, September 21, 2013

How to Survive GAPS Without...

Photo Courtesy of Emily Knepper

...Eggs, butter, coconut meal, nut flours, honey, and etc.In about two weeks, on October 3, I will celebrate my second anniversary of being a GAPSter and celebrate my closure on the "Formal GAPS" chapter of The Life of Jenn. That's right. Jenn's coming off GAPS ~ but that is for another post. This post is about me sharing with you ten things I did (whether consciously or not) to not only survive but enjoy being on the diet, while getting better to boot! What is more, Jenn was the girl who never really managed to introduce some of GAPS's staple foods until much, much, much (aka reaching-the-finishing-line) later in the diet. So this is a list of things to keep in mind while striving to stay on this crazy thing called GAPS for two years when you can't have half of the main foods people resort to in order to hang in there.*

1)  Admit monotony. First of all, just admit that, well, you are going to be limited in what foods you can choose from. A huge component of disappointment is entertaining wrong or unrealistic expectations, so the first step for victory on GAPS Version Limited is contentment: want what you have and enjoy what you've got! Instead of brooding over what others, even other GAPSters, can have which you cannot, decide to skip over all that by simply knowing that, hey, the reality is that you cannot have some stuff and that is okay. Like what you have and be creative with how you cook/serve/eat it. It is fun after a while, really!

2)  Embrace variety. So, sure, you cannot taste caramel or have that GAPS pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving, but you can have other things! And, once you start thinking about it, you can have a lot of other things! Name all the veggies you can eat, count all the types of meat you can eat, think of all the ferments you can make. Later on, think of all the fruits that do not make you break out into rashes, and then consider alllll the recipes that can come out of those components. The possibilities are, if not endless, at least exciting. Embrace variety in another sense, too, though. Once you have an idea of what you can have, make sure to use it. Sometimes on such an intense diet we are tempted to fall into eating a lot of one thing, or repeat the same recipe over and over again. As appealing as that may sound work- and mental energy-wise, don't do it. Eating the same thing, no matter how easy that thing is to grab or prepare, is neither good for your health nor your staying power. Believe me, your body will get sick of it and your mind will get sick of it and your eyes will get sick of it, and you will not be nourishing yourself. Embrace variety.

3)  Seize the spices. Along with Point Two comes the flavour factor. On GAPS, we are welcome to use all the organic herbs and spices our bodies can handle, and that proves an enormous boon when our diets are so strictly limited. Using different herbs in an old recipe adds interest, reduces boredom, whets the appetite, and thus goes a long way to spread mealtime cheer. Once you have learned a technique ~ say, how to make meat stew or blended vegetable soup ~ you can change up the stew's flavours by swapping spices and herbs every time you make it. That way, your poor tired brain only needs to think of one technique while you get to enjoy a number of different tastes. In short, learn a few base recipes and then swap ingredients and seasonings to create an interesting GAPS life. 

4)  Fall in love with ground meats. Seriously. Ground meat is like GAPS fast food. It defrosts quickly, it cooks up in a matter of minutes, it carries well, it satisfies hunger is magic. When you cannot munch on almonds, or raw anyveggie, or those GAPS muffins which only work with eggs, then, for a snack, ground meat is your best friend. Bake a lot of meatballs and freeze them for whenever you need something to eat or simply brown some in a skillet for a quick fix. By using your variety of seasonings, ground meat will never have to be boring again. It might just become your best food friend.

5)  Eat your veggies! This one is a little trickier because all of us GAPSters have a very different set of "safe" versus "unsafe" veggies. I may be fine with cucumbers but crumble before radishes; you might be the complete opposite. Whatever your veggie case may be, if you can eat vegetables, you are blessed and ought to eat them. They are colourful (which suddenly becomes oh, so very important on GAPS), they are crunchy if raw (another virtue utterly taken for granted), they are portable (are you seeing a pattern here?), and, of course, if they don't kill you they are very healthy. Carrots in coconut oil (raw or cooked ~ really! Just dip a carrot stick in coconut oil!), lettuce cups full of guacamole, caramelised onions, and oven-roasted kale are some of my favourites. Excited yet?

6)  Know your fats. Alright, so you cannot have butter, you cannot have eggs, you cannot have nut butters, and you cannot have other foods besides! While possibilities look bleak for eating tasty, healthy fat-full foods, you do indeed have options, and you must indeed use those options for the sake of your well-being. We all know that fats play a huge role in GAPS healing, so where do you turn when you cannot have butter? First on the list is meat fat: lard, tallow, chicken fat (this last one has great healing properties for colds and flus!). To be honest, tallow is not a favourite around here, so we use it minimally for cooking, but lard and chicken fat makes anything taste better. Use these fats for cooking, and be sure to eat them as they already appear in the foods you make! Then there is ghee, or clarified butter. This helps you get a lot of the nutrients found in butter without suffering the consequences that milk solids play in some of our systems! I recommend Kimi Harris's directions for making ghee at home, and I strongly suggest you use Kerrygold butter to make it. The flavour cannot be rivalled. Finally, yes, extra virgin organic coconut oil. It tastes good with anything, in my opinion, and is great for dipping. Throughout the beginning stages of GAPS, this girl ate an insane amount of ghee and coconut oil ~ right off the spoon! Your body needs all of this to repair and nourish itself. And let not your heart be troubled: fat will not make you fat. ;)

7)  Savour your sauces and chew your bones. When you cannot have butter or eggs, which apart from broth are basically the two power foods of GAPS and Nourishing Traditions, then you need to get a little creative. That's right, you get to be French Gollum: loving sauces and sucking the life out of bones. And, yes, I know I just ruined your dreams tonight. In all sincerity, though, a sauce is like a condensed, yummy version of soup, chock full of all those vital nutrients from the meat and bones in question. Laced with the vitamin-rich fat from pastured meats and preferably roasted or sautéed to bring out flavour, these sauces are at once delicious and nutritious. You need them. Same goes for bones ~ you know the soft ones found in crockpot chicken ~ and marrow. Especially for people who cannot handle dairy on top of all these other limitations, the calcium and complementary nutrients available to bone-suckers is vital. Try to be a fair lady while implementing this practice, okay? Or else, don't tell anyone it was me who told you....

8)  Know you are weird and know it with confidence. This one is pretty simple, particularly considering what I just wrote in point six: don't get defensive. You see, when one has food limitations and must therefore perform edible acrobatics such as we GAPSters do, then one is going to be quite different from the "norm" of others. We should not expect others to understand our antics completely. Come on, folks, we are weird and that is okay! When you are with other people, understand that they might not understand why you are toting salt and a cooler around the globe. But once you acknowledge the weirdness and break the ice with those people who are scratching their heads and staring at you, they generally warm up to you and your quirks. When you treat your limitations as normal, others eventually will come around. Crack a joke about it. Be free. Be confident. Be gracious. When I go to other people's houses, with lunchbox in tow, I let the hostess know, "The problem is not with your food at all; the problem's with my silly stomach." She usually splits a smile and we continue to have a charming evening. So, yeah, go be weird and kind all at the same time!

9)  Be realistic and plan ahead. Basically, don't expect GAPS-friendly food to be at the summer cookout or at that restaurant you are going to for your husband's friend's daughter's anniversary dinner. Plan ahead and bring your own food. By the way, most restaurants are now very understanding of special diets and I have never had a problem bringing my own food somewhere. 

10) Never ever admit defeat. Yep, the tenth and final secret to not quitting is to not quit. Simple, I know, but in our day and age, it is so very very overlooked. Just say no to the foods you cannot have, always ensure you have foods with you that you can say yes to, and never EVER back down. If you mess up a bit (which you should not do, by the way), you will survive....and so will GAPS. GAPS will still be there for you to follow at the next snack time. You can do it. Really. And you can have a great time doing it. Really.

Please note that on GAPS the idea is for you to eventually reintroduce all traditional food back into your diet. For some of us it simply takes longer. So this is for those of us who have to go a longer time without certain foods; this is not to say that we will never be able to have those harder foods. I look forward to the day when I can drink milk! It just hasn't happened yet (sung to the tune of that one Bublé song :P). 

*For twenty-three of the twenty-four months of being on GAPS, Jenn could not have eggs, butter, coconut meal, nut flours, honey, apples, or bananas. She also stayed clear of watermelon, oranges, and, as much as she could, peas due to the sugar and/or difficult-to-digest factors of these foods. A small scattering of soaked beans and soaked nuts made it late into the game, and the list above reflects these restrictions.  

Thursday, September 12, 2013

A Funeral and a Wedding

Van Eyck's Arnolfini ~ a Jenn favourite

So, today, a day smack dab in the middle of a series of absolutely beautiful weddings, I went to a funeral.

It was the funeral of a man who had loved the Lord with all his might while he was here on earth, and had suddenly been taken Home to go on doing that for eternity. But what was on my mind during his funeral was marriage. You see, he and his wife, a lovely homeschooling couple, had enjoyed a sweet marriage. Not a perfect one, not an all the time sappy one, but one that stayed focused on Christ and showed Christ here on earth. For a Christian, that is a good marriage. 

But today was the husband’s funeral. And seeing a loving wife walking behind her loving husband’s coffin is just all wrong. It is like seeing a person with one part dead and the other part still breathing. 

So I thought about marriage. And about my friends who have just gotten married. And about my friends who will be getting married. And I thought about just how serious this whole sugary romance thing is. 

Marriage is not about staring into each other’s deep >insert colour of choice< eyes until it feels like eternity has passed away. It is not about holding hands and posting the cutest sweetest “daw” inducing comments on social networks. It is not about love’s first kiss. It isn’t even about spending the rest of your life with your best friend. Sure, marriage can and probably should include all of these things. But that is not what it is about. 

It is about saying “I do” to someone with whom you can live a life that allows you to, decades down the road, stand next to their coffin and, weeping, know that you two lived a life full of Christ together. It is about being the person who grew in grace while united to another. It is about knowing that, even if there were causes for regrets, those causes were washed in grace because you two were both being clothed together in His righteousness. 

I hate to be a downer. But I do not think that in the long run I am being a downer. Sure, go on. Enjoy the romance and the sappiness and the hugs and the comments. Nevertheless, what I was left thinking about today was what marriage looks like at the end: a woman keeping on living in Christ when her husband is gone, because she knows they both lived completely in Him from beginning to end. Because giving herself to her husband was just another way of giving herself to her God. 

Because marriage is serious. Marriage is about the Gospel. And that sort of marriage love is beautiful because it foretells of the real thing: the wedding of Christ and His Bride, which will never end in a coffin. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Dominican Republic 2013: Part Ten

Well, well, well. Here we are, at Part Ten, a whole month after it happened. I was going to just let this post lie sleeping because it is so late in coming, but I had decided on a perfect ten in this series, and Mumsie says I need to get better at finishing what I start anyway. So here is the last, broad-brush-stroke glance at our final week in the Dominican Republic.

First, I guess I need to back up a bit and talk about our time in La Tinajita. You all heard about the dentistry on Thursday and the waterfalls on Friday, but a lot more happened during our five-day stay there. Friday evening, a few of us who still had energy went down the mountain into the poor village. We passed out some goodies from the States to the slum's children, and, while doing that, we were given the interesting opportunity to compare the life of this village to the life of the other village we had worked in only a week before, Villa Alta Gracia. While life was difficult but bright in Villa, the mood of La Tinajita somehow weighed heavier on our time. Things were grey and dirty and loud and TVs were everywhere. A new government-run public school was being built in the middle of this once-farming village, and the half-finished project loomed huge and imposing at the heart of the town. While we knew prostitution was big in Villa, it was obvious here. We went further and further down the hill until our goodies ran out ~ right in front of a club.

But there were bright spots. Mainly, the ever so shy but smiling children, plus the stories some of the adults told us about how kind Hermano Ambiorix (our host) has been to them. It is amazing what Christ working through a Christian can do, even in the dark places of this world. It is also amazing to consider (yeah, so what if that makes no etymological sense?) just how much of a difference one's ideology and beliefs make in one's actions and circumstances. It is not like Hermano Ambiorix started out rich and did not have to work very hard to reach his current financial state. It is not like the the people in Villa "have it better" than the people in La Tinajita. Nope, the rich people and happy people and the dismal people all started in the same place. It's not about circumstances; it is about the beliefs we have. So this observation was yet another reminder that, instead of making excuses and blaming my agitation on my current situation, what I really need is to have a heart check. To be like David and cry, "Search me O God and know my thoughts. Try me in all my ways...." To think like Gandalf, who admonishes, "All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us." To be mindful of what Elisabeth Elliot so wisely says, "The discipline of emotions is the training of responses" to whatever life (aka the all-wise, perfectly loving Father) brings me.

Major tangent.

So that was Friday. On Saturday, Daddy and Josh went to the city, Santiago, where Dad held his marathon class with the seminary students who learn under him every week on Skype. It is always a treat to see your teacher and students in person, eh? While my brother and father were away, the rest of us played Phase 10 till our brains were pouring out of our ears, listened to and discussed the merits of our music, ate snacks, and took pictures. Sometime in the late (or early; pick your country) afternoon, Hermano Ambiorix fired up his hearth outside in preparation for making his famous goat stew. That night, Pastor Eric and his family, Ricardo and his family, Tomas and his family, and Ambiorix's household would all be sharing this meal together, and, boy, was it fun. First of all, the goat pot was obtrusively outrageously ridiculously huge. It had two goats and three sacks of potatoes in it! Then, the people who came over were loads of fun and fellowship, too. After filling ourselves with farm-raised, chef-selected Dominican chivo, we broke out the instruments and loosened our voices and began to make music. Flute, keyboard, guitar, hand drums, and a few other things, plus lots of harmony, filled that mountain with song and laughter. It was pretty cool.

Sunday follows Saturday and Sunday equals church, so down the mountain (the other side of the mountain) we went to the city of Samtiago. Rogers, Joshua, and Daddy were going to provide the instruments for our worship singing that morning, but, halfway through the first song, the power went out. Everything went dark ~ well, as dark as it can get on a Caribbean morning ~ and very warm and very quiet. No mics, no air conditioning, no lights. This was ironic because the song we were singing when the lights went out was "Shine, Jesus, Shine" (which has better lyrics in Spanish, by the way).

Now, according to the church members, the last time this power outage had happened on a Sunday morning was the last time we were there. More irony. But they still love us, so all is well.

To be honest, the power outage was a very good thing. It allowed everyone to be more gracious, less proud, more open with each other. It forced Rogers to play practically on her own, and she did a beautiful job, blessing many through her quiet yet melodic service. It humbled me, because I was getting quite comfortable with this translating thing, but when the speaker has no mic and the translator is sitting beside a loud, generator-powered fan, translating becomes somewhat of a miracle. Yeah, God did not let me rest in my own powers for long. We rely on Him for everything, even translating.
And Pastor Eric preached an excellent sermon from the book of Joshua, when some of the Israelites raise up monuments and the rest of the Israelites are ready to go at their brothers for the sake of God's holiness. We learned about the zeal we ought to have for God's glory, which implies we encourage our brothers in the faith, correct any deviations when we find them, and know His word enough to know what to encourage and what to foresake. Yeah, it was a great sermon.

Another tangent.

The only event important to our narrative that took place during the rest of the day was that Mariela, Pastor Eric's youngest daughter, decided to come along with us for our last week in the DR. Our group had picked up Patrick and Emanuel, so Mariela made us a perfect team of guys, girls, Americans, Dominicans, quiet people, loud people (I think the loud people won out in the end, though). We so enjoyed having her during that final week!

Which went accordingly, to be brief:

Monday was full of Bible Study and Critical Thinking sessions, more good food, more pictures, and more games. Ricardo took time to teach us about a heart of service at church, especially in areas that are invisible necessities like working the sound and networking. I think that thinking about these ministries with that perspective was something we all needed to hear, and we were blessed to see it lived out in Ricardo's life of generous service on multiple fronts.I could go on about everything we learned in 1 Peter and Critical Thinking, but, hey, notes are personal stuff.

From Tuesday to Thursday we were at the beach in Las Terrenas, a little touristy place along the coast not far from Samanà, the town in which the DR's oldest evangelical church is located. Every time I go to that church, I learn something new about the dedication to Christ that one must have to spread the gospel. Young, young couples who died long before they were old give their short years to leave an Empire and live in a totally isolated island. Quick-thinking believers hide people underneath church basements when wars break out in their front lawns. Church members fight for their land, so rich with gospel history, to not be seized and turned into a night club. At the heart of it all, simple but wise Christians who have given their all for God's kingdom because He has given them everything they could hope for. It was neat to see the tombstones of the people, and the church that they began by God's grace, but it was saddening to see how those examples can so easily pass out of memory and mind.

Other things we did and saw during that last week was, yes, go to the beach. For a day. Sand and coral and sharp reefs and sunsets and currents and salt water and babies and Ninja. Shrimp and garlic pizza with mushrooms and hot pepper oil, taking over a restaurant's guitar and singing whichever songs we chose. Late nights of studying and growing followed by later nights of giggling and growing (not that I giggle, ahem).

And then you leave. You go back to the city, away from the sea, and, one by one, the people that you have lived with for a month and who somehow feel like Family (oh, wait, that is because they are) slip off to their own homes. And it's just you and your American team drinking chocolate syrup and playing, what was it, a piece from Madagascar 2?, until your 3:30am departure for home begins.

Oh, well, that is what Skype is for.

I could recount the adventures we undertook to get back to IAD safely, but that would be redundant because you already know the moral of the story: NEVER go to New York City and never ever ever ever go to JFK. Just don't.

I know, I am so good at heartfelt climactic endings. (facepalm)