collecting shards of light


The other night, as we sat around the dinner table eating pork chops and mushrooms, our daughter looked down at her plate and stopped talking for a moment. She had just been singing about something that had happened at school that afternoon, so her silence confused me.

“You okay, kiddo?” I said, reaching out to pat her hand.

She nodded, then started talking about a friend of hers. She and this other little one have been the dearest of friends, joined at the hip, so madly in love with each other that they told everyone they knew for months that they are getting married someday. But lately, there have been fewer playdates, a bit less time together. They still climb trees and swing and make up imaginary games. But there has been a bit of…lessening. We asked Lu what was wrong.

She talked about her friend’s cautious nature, the way she clings to the side of the pool instead of swimming, the way she admonishes Lu when she’s doing something her friend thinks is risky. We talked for a bit, explained that it’s in her friend’s nature to be more guarded. Could she still love her friend, even though they are so different? Yes, of course, she expressed.

And then she said this, sighing: “I just love the world. My friend is more scared of the world than she loves it. I don’t know how to convince her to love it more.”

Sometimes that kid blows me away.

I’ve been thinking about that conversation ever since. How much Lu — and Danny and I — love the world. It’s in Lu’s nature to be ebullient, fearless, and in love with everyone she meets. It’s how she entered this world, I believe. And I just love her wish: to teach her friend to love the world more than fear it.

I’ve also been thinking about a talk I heard a few weeks ago, given by a rabbi visiting our Unitarian fellowship. She told a creation story, that the creator was so full of light that the entire universe was full. Breath held, an empty space formed. And that space was filled with our world and humans, made up of shards of light from the creator. Our job is to reunite what has been broken. To collect the shards of light. To gather the sparks and return them to creation. We all choose to gather light in whatever way fits us. There’s plenty of brokenness to go around, after all.

But it’s that brokenness, that fear of the world, that seems to dominate media, social and otherwise. We dwell on horrible stories. Celebrity gossip — my goodness, what a waste of time. And I feel like most of us must elbow our way to find a place in this world, with SEO rewards and more money and shiniest hair, because we forget we’re just supposed to be collecting light.

Oh goodness, I should say something funny. This has all grown a little deep. But this is where I’m standing today, hands open, just looking for shards to grab.

Here are some stories that moved me this week. Maybe they’ll work for you too.

This interview with the head nurse in a Michigan hospital, telling the story of how they communicated with a family in Iran to give final dignity to their daughter, left me in tears.

Sam Polk, founder of Groceryshipswrote a courageous piece on the true problem of Wall Street: wealth addiction. Unfortunately, it affects all of us.

I love Charles Blow’s op-ed on the power of books. Did you know that 25% of Americans did not read a single book this year? The James Baldwin quote he cited left me breathless:

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me the most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.”

This boy loves his sister so much that this video made me long for Lucy to have a sibling.

This young man, Sam Bern, is one of the most eloquent and sweet-hearted people I’ve never met. He knew more about living life than most of us.

Diana Nyad’s TED talk on her swim from Cuba to Florida is going to live on my computer permanently. If I start to feel sorry for myself, I’ll watch it again. As she says, find a way.

I have gone back to Bee Walker’s photography tumblr every day this week, just to pause and take in the beauty of her world.

And in the only one of these related to food, this TED talk by Sandra Aamodt makes it clear why dieting doesn’t work and why it may not matter in the long run. Did you know that 80% of 10-year-old girls say they have been on a diet already? Not our kid. Not if we can help it.

photo taken by our friend Ben, at the farm where our kitchen studio is.
photo taken by our friend Ben, at the farm where our kitchen studio is.

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We’re also trying to gather a little light in the world by answering your questions. Danny and I get so many questions in our emails and on Facebook and Twitter, and we do our best to answer them all. But we thought Fridays might be a good time to answer some of them here, so everyone can read the answers.

“What types of baking recipes are easiest to convert to gluten free?” — Amber

My one-sentence answer is this: the kinds of recipes that don’t require gluten!

Now, instead of leaving you there, let me explain.

For hundreds of years, we’ve used wheat flour for baked goods predominately because it has been the most widely available. Teff flour wasn’t known outside of Ethiopia, for the most part, until the 20th century. If we had all known teff, I think it might have become the required flour for chocolate baked goods long ago. But, since wheat flour is the only we’ve really known, we’ve used it to death. That might be part of the reason for the rise of celiac: wheat flour was the only choice. And we really like our starchy, bready sweet things in this culture.

However, if we designed the best flour for making quick breads, muffins, and cakes right now? We would never choose wheat flour. Think of the directions for a typical cake recipe. Once you add the dry ingredients, it always reads “Mix until just combined. Do not over-mix!” Why? Because we don’t want to activate the gluten. Make a cake with the right ratio of gluten-free flours and you will never have a tough cake.

Why does banana bread need the stretchy, elastic qualities of gluten? It doesn’t. The best banana bread I have ever made uses almond flour, arrowroot flour, and buckwheat flour. Not only is it gluten-free but it’s free of grains as well. It’s soft and tender and stays moist for days.

So think of all the recipes that do not require the stretchy elasticity of gluten or the structure it contributes. Bread? Yes, it requires gluten, although there are ways around that. But brownies, banana bread, bar cookies, and birthday cakes? Heck with the gluten.

“I’d like to know based on the laws in place today should I trust something that clearly states gluten free with no warning of processing/exposure environment? Or do I need to do the due diligence?” — Cathy

Advocate for yourself, always.

Gluten-free has become so ubiquitous that companies are jumping on the bandwagon to make sales. Hurrah! And yaboo sucks! Just because something is naturally free of gluten, like corn, does not mean the final product is gluten-free. You have to ask every company about their practices. What are their sources? What care do they take to avoid cross-contamination? What about transportation of ingredients? Is there a dedicated gluten-free line or is it just throw on the same line as the gluten products, right after? Are those tortilla chips fried in the same oil as flour tortillas?

This is part of the reason we run our own sponsorship program on this site. We want to recommend the companies who make great food and take the greatest care. You can see their ads to the left of this post. Check them out. There are more on our sponsorship page.

Honestly, I do not put a bite of food into my mouth until I have ascertained for myself that it is gluten-free. That’s why having celiac can be annoying and time-consuming. But it’s not worth the risks to get a little bit of gluten, occasionally. Or often.

“I’d love to hear more from you/others about personal body care products, not just food. Personally my sensitivity got noticeably worse this year and I find I no longer need to ingest gluten to have a reaction. Topical application also triggers it. I am not used to reading the labels on my conditioner, sun screen, etc. Lately, it seems as if wheat and oat germ protein and oil are in every product I find!” — Jamie

It’s hard enough to explain to family and friends why you can’t eat the dinner rolls or stir fry they made for you. It’s even harder to explain why you can’t use the shampoo in their guest room!

The official line, even in some of the most trusted celiac centers, is that cosmetics and lotions don’t have to be gluten-free since they aren’t being eaten. But thousands of celiacs disagree. If I use a shampoo with hydrolyzed wheat protein in it? My hair turns to straw the next day. If your lipstick has gluten in it, you’re eating a little bit of gluten when you dress up for a party.

I think it matters. So do many people. Look at the post on the Facebook page of the University of Chicago Celiac Center, where people weigh in with their favorite suggestions. There are plenty of ideas there.

Me? I use very little cosmetics at all. I wash my face with a soap made by a farmer here on Vashon, which is made with lard from their pigs. (It’s like I live in Little House on the Prairie, really.) I use avocado oil or coconut oil for lotion, on my body and my face. My skin is super-soft without any chemicals. Trader Joe’s sells a citrus shampoo that works for me, and sometimes I use baking soda and lemon juice. Of course, I live on a a rural island and rarely wear makeup, so this routine might not work for some of you.

If you have celiac, what shampoos, soaps, lotions, makeup, lipstick and other cosmetics do you use without a reaction?

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I hope this helped bring you a little light for the weekend.


34 comments on “collecting shards of light

  1. bbudke

    >And did you know that the average American woman eats 1 pound of lipstick a year?

    Given that the average lipstick contains 0.15 ounces of product, that’s the equivalent of eating over 100 tubes of lipstick.

    1. shauna

      You are right. I had heard that statistic quotes so often that it became too familiar in my mind. I have cut the reference.

  2. Ginny

    I hadn’t thought about the lipstick, hair products, etc. that have gluten. Thanks so much for giving us resources to find better products.
    About the negativity around us – I stopped watching the world and US news about 15 years ago when they began showing such horrible videos; about a year later I stopped with local news. I get what I need from a few computer sites. I’m well up on current news and events, but not having it shoved in my face made a big difference in my frame of mind.

  3. Elisabeth L.

    Tarte Cosmetics is completely gf! I use their tinted moisturizer. Their packaging is kind of funky, especially lipsticks — big bamboo (!) tubes; unfortunately, their colors are limited. For lippies I get Laura Mercier, as the tubes are sleeker and smaller, and they have more colors to choose from. Unfortunately, NARS no longer says they are gf — which could mean it is, or isn’t, or never was…

  4. Kristie Sexton

    As parents with an 8yo daughter going through testing, I have many questions. For years we have been told that our daughter has acid reflux. Fed up with trying all the meds, and none working, we want to know the cause of her problems not just try to ease her symptoms. So blood work, barium X-ray swallow test and endoscope w/biopsy are all in the works. Her Ped said to me, if nothing turns up, this is Soohia being Sophia and we need to look at Psychological/anxiety disorder! I am concerned as I have read again and again about false negitive results. What are the best testing measures for all food sensitivities/allergies??

    1. Lisa

      For a confirmed celiac dx, you really need an endoscopy with biopsy, which it sounds like you’re getting. I don’t know about other sensitivities. If nothing comes up on the tests, an elimination diet might help.

    2. M

      Kristie, Twenty years ago when tests weren’t as good and the doctors knew less I too was diagnosed with psychological/anxiety/eating disorder issues. Turns out I had celiac and a diary intolerance. But the docs didn’t have a “scientifically” proven answer so they told me I was anorexic/high anxiety because I told them that my stomach hurt all the time and I didn’t like eating. They said I just had to choose to stop the pain – and that it was all in my head. Oddly enough, this approach didn’t help the pain.

      A question to ask the doctors might be if they saw an adult with these symptoms or a young man – would they just blame their nerves? Young women often have serious medical conditions written off more often than other populations.

      Use caution in applying mental health labels to a kid (I was ten). If your daughter is a reasonably happy, normalish kid – keep looking for another answer and work with people who are less concerned with what science can prove and more concerned with how/what your daughter feels. Talk with her about her feelings and learn the signs of mental health issues and eating disorders but I encourage you to avoid labels as much as you can when it comes to mental health concerns. It took me until I was 21 to figure out the celiac (tests had improved) but part of the time delay was that I didn’t trust doctors after they’d pooh poohed my concerns and resorted to blaming the patient. Good luck with her tests and I hope you find some answers – even if it’s just using an elimination diet or getting better at noticing her patterns.

      It’s wonderful she has you to help advocate for her.

    3. Kari

      i suffer from so many allergies, there are many painful, expensive and awful tests out there, such as a skin test where they set up a chart on your back and inject a known allergen into each square to see if there is a reaction. this can be very uncomfortable and very painful. they can test some food allergens this way too. i was blessed with a doctor/specialist who recommended a better way, he trusted my body to tell me what was troubling me. he empowered me to investigate and make life style changes that made me healthier without a “doctor test, doctor approved, doctors note”. elimination, in my opinion, is the best way to get at the heart of allergies, i only wish i had been braver and more honest with myself when i was early in my investigations, i may not have gotten as sick as i did by keeping gluten in my diet. there are many eliminate type exercises, basically you strip down food choices to only a couple basic items for a period of time and then very slowly begin to re-introduce items back in. i eliminated food and chemicals such as laundry detergents and body care products to one ingredient items. the body can take as long as three -five days to react to an allergen, this can make it tricky, patience is important. it can also take a while for the body to heal from an expose. neither of my parents had allergies, and they struggled with mine, i have some really odd allergies, and odd reactions to allergies. allergy hunting can be a life time/ life style endeavor. just a side note, perfumes and chemical smells can cause me terrible re-flux and heart burn, as bad if not worse than gluten. the tummy is tied to everything in the body. good luck in your investigations.

  5. Lisa

    I actually don’t worry about gluten in soap/shampoo for my celiac kids. Our gastroenterologist has told us that unless it’s ingested and moves through the small intestine, it won’t cause a reaction (they don’t get dermatitis herpetiformis, but even that, she says, isn’t caused by anything topical). When they were tiny and drank their bathwater, I was cautious…but I have to read enough labels as it is. Their antibody levels as of last week were 0, so I think we’re fine. Lipstick is obviously a different story, but it doesn’t come up for the elementary school set.

    1. Denise Rivers

      My dermatitis herpeteformis was absolutely NOT topically induced and the only thing that soothed that horrific itch was a cream containing a wheat protein. I also found that upping my zyrtec dose to twice a day (on the recommendation of a pediatric allergist friend of mine) helped some too.
      I make a concerted effort to reign in the crazy when it comes to my celiac. As an adult I know I won’t die from exposure, but I do know that I can hurt some people if I am a big ole butt and self absorbed about the tiniest grain of gluten.
      Like my undergarments, I keep the care and upkeep of my celiac close to the vest and don’t make it anybody else’s job but mine.

      1. shauna

        We all have our own way. But I don’t believe that making sure to choose a lipstick without gluten makes anyone a big ole butt or self-absorbed. To each her own.

        1. Denise

          I was actually referring to the shampoo in other people’s homes. I would not feel the need to explain to them why I was not using it. I am not trying to be contrary. I have just noticed that there are two “solid” camps in the gluten free world. It is YOUR job to protect me from the gluten or it is MY job to protect me from the gluten. I find that it is too easy to become the person identified by her disease rather than the person who lives a full life because her disease taught her that everything has beauty and a lesson in it. Celiac taught me to be humble around food. And grateful. And patient. And kind. And much more understanding to the struggles of others. When I feel a whine coming on, I do my best (and often fail) to realize that it isn’t always about me and try to find the good anyway.

  6. Jamie

    The insight your daughter has never ceases to amaze me. I keep a quotation wall at my office, of inspirations and thoughts. “Love the world more” is heading up there on Monday.

    Thanks for including my question! Might as well answer it myself. I have been using Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint liquid castille soap at home (and the bar version at the gym) for years and cannot recommend it enough. Neutrogena has been my go-to facial care brand since middle school; recently I switched to the Neutrogena Naturals line and love it. The scrub is a perfectly gentle exfoliant, and the moisturizer is creamy without being oily at all. I wish it also had SPF in it, but I just put that on separately now. I had been using Organix line hair products. BEWARE! Many of their conditioners now contain wheat germ oil. As do many of the “salon” care lines I’ve looked at in the last two weeks. I now use de-Luxe shampoo and conditioner, as well as their body lotion (rosemary mint). At the office, I’ve been using Trader Joe’s Mint as well as Citrus shampoos and conditioners after a lunch workout when my hair really needs it. This year I had horrible reactions to all standard drugstore sunscreens (Banana Boat, Neutrogena, Waterbabies), and finally switched to Alba. Pricier, and I could only find SPF 45, but no hives in reaction. Can anyone recommend a sunscreen with a higher SPF? I burn so easily in any sunlight.

    1. Barbara

      I can second the recommendation for Dr Bronner’s soap – I used it in high school and then moved to Europe and couldn’t find it for a while till it popped up again in a shop in London, much to my delight!

  7. Paula

    “since wheat flour is the only we’ve really known, we’ve used it to death.”
    Wheat gets USDA subsidies, which is why it’s in everything. But in European history, barley and rye were most common. Some peoples used buckwheat or chestnut flours. T. aestivum (common bread wheat) couldn’t be grown in much of Europe, due to the short growing season, but Secale cereale (rye) could. Katherine Czapp’s post details more history on gluten and wheat.
    She’s cited sources, as well.

      1. Paula

        Of course Jakarta has the world’s largest flour mill. Any not everyone in the US or Canada has a sensitivity to gluten or wheat products, so perhaps “to death” is a bit of an overstatement. Those of us who don’t eat gluten or wheat are a small percentage of the population. Not everything popular in the mainstream US is necessarily bad, shoddy or unhealthy.

  8. Megan M.

    What a beautiful sentiment spoken by your daughter. I agree with her wholeheartedly. I think she and my son would get along because my son shares the same attitude towards life and the world. He has this fearlessness about him that I wish would rub off on me. I tend to be more cautious and I try to not let it get in the way of him discovering the world for himself. Thanks for sharing!

  9. Christine

    I absolutely adore this post – thank you for sharing these thoughts, and your daughter’s words. It’s already pretty obvious that she is going to do some pretty amazing things in this world.

  10. MJ

    Thanks for this post. It is easy to get stuck in fear, especially when we’re surrounded by so much of it. But we can choose what to focus on and what to ignore, and doing that certainly makes a difference.
    To respond to the question about body care prodcuts, I use Dr. Bronner’s castille soap (in bars) for shampoo and shaving as well as washing. It works great for me, and has certainly simplified packing for a trip. When my scalp gets dry, I massage in some plain coconut oil (from the grocery store) before showering.

  11. meg

    Lovely, lovely post. As a child and adolescent who was very afraid of life, I work daily to collect those beautiful shards of light. I hope Lu has patience with her friend. Some of us just need a little more time.

  12. April

    I use products which are listed at Afton does a great job of keeping up with which companies have gluten free products and who tests to make sure the products are actually gluten free. Her lists are updated quarterly and she will send out emails to notify you if a company changes their products so that the products are no longer gluten free.

  13. DamselflyDiary

    There is a formula for happiness (as read in The Dalai Lama’s Cat and The Art of Purring.)
    H = S + C + V
    S=Biological set point (each person has a biological set point or average of happiness you are born with)
    C=Conditions of your life (gender, race, sexual orientation, where born in the world, etc.)
    V=Voluntary Variables (activities you choose: exercise, mediation, volunteering, learning an instrument, etc.)

    According to this formula’s set point theory, some people are naturally upbeat and cheerful, others are temperamentally gloomy, while most of us are somewhere in the middle. Lu must have a higher than average set point, been born into good conditions (obviously!) and do things to actively keep herself engaged in life.

    P.S. They said the best way to increase your set point is to meditate. Winning the lottery won’t do it. You will be happier for a while but will naturally go back to your original set point over time.

  14. Jacqueline

    Alterna shampoo and conditioner is gluten-free. I love the caviar duo. I find hair products and lip products–the most likely to get in my mouth–must be gluten free. Smashbox also makes some gluten-free lip, but not all.

  15. Lauren

    For those wanting gluten free shampoo, conditioners and body lotions: Costco’s own Kirkland brand makes amazing shampoos, conditioners and body lotions. There’s no gross build up with the shampoo conditioner and no freaky ingredients either. The lotion, I love. It leaves my oily Chicago skin feeling hydrated without being greasy. It also has am lactin in it, which is great for those with eczema.

  16. Amy Fox

    I like Just Naturals brand shampoo and conditioners for my naturally curly hair. I use a combo of castor oil and olive oil on my face. Dr. Bronner’s in place of shower gel. I use coconut oil to moisturize anywhere. I like Tarte Cosmetics for gluten free make-up, especially the amazonian clay mascara….standard mascaras make my eyes itch!

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