Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Retreat Time ... a much needed refresh for the Soul (She Matters Art Retreat)

2013 will go down as one of the most roller coaster years in the lives of myself and my family.  This year has been one of amazing highs and happy times to soul crushing lows ... the most tragic of these was my son losing his dad this July to very aggressive stomach cancer - it was a shock to us all, and it has been life altering to our family, sadly we also lost my son's uncle and his dad's older brother just a month and a half before.  Two amazing men with growing and loving families, taken by cancer within 2 months of each other.  I have to be honest - I just wanted the world to stop spinning, I wanted the sun and moon to halt while we processed this terrible loss to our lives, while we tried to figure out how to move forward - to deal with the never ending pain of losing someone so close, how to help my son grieve, understand his anger, accept it and keep moving ~ at the same time doing the same for myself.  Have felt a bit lost at times ... the roller coaster feeling continues.

This year also brought great blessings into our lives - my youngest sister had her first child, and while her pregnancy and birth were very traumatic - and my little niece was born two and a half months early and at a mere 2.8 pds., and spent the first two months of her little life in the NICU Unit at two different hospitals - they have both thrived since then and my little niece has become one of the great joys in my life.  I also became a great Auntie once again, to two new nephews - one in March and one in October of this year.  So here joy.  

But roller coaster it has been ... and even with the simple joys of new life and innocence, it has been a struggle to maintain a smile and a light heart most days.  To say my health has been taking a knock would be a simple statement, for even though you think you are doing your best to control the stress you feel bonded with you over loss - my body has been telling me differently this year.  It has been a struggle to feel "ok", and a hard thing to explain to people how connected it all is.  So this past September I had an opportunity to take a bit of time for myself, to get back to some creative therapy ... I had signed up for a Mixed Media Art retreat called "She Matters Art Retreat" held by the wonderful family of Christy and Ben Tomlinson, in Idaho Falls, Idaho - Owners of Scarlet Lime  ~ I write about my art retreat experience here.  This post however is to pay tribute to the FOOD ~ and the wonderful people that made the effort to keep me well fed and do it safely ~ all the while learning themselves about gluten free cooking and preparing food for a Celiac.

So this is going to be a different kind of post than I usually do ... this post is not about an awesome local restaurant, or a celiac event or even a post about what "topics" of discussion maybe be trending on other blogs or twitter ~ this is a post about a celebration of sorts, a post about some amazing people that with their sincere caring and thoughtfulness handed me a gift this year ... a refreshing of my belief in goodness, a hug to my soul ~ at a time where I really needed one.  

Being someone with Celiac Disease - why did I think I could even take a risk and venture into someone's home and have them cook for me?  What steps did I take to ensure that I would be able to stay healthy?  Well first of all - I have learned that though this disease is a part of who I am - and learning to live and live well has often been a challenge ~ I have also learned that this disease does not define who I am, and yes I may be a bit stubborn but I believe we need to keep challenging ourselves and what we can do, keep moving ahead.  I like to travel and I like to eat out - and I continue to do so, I just have to take a few more precautions now that I ever had to in the past.  Look around us - in the years since I have been diagnosed it is amazing how Celiac Disease has come to the world's attention ~ more aptly really "gluten free" ~ and yes while there has been negative media, celebrity, and company there is also strong positive things happening.  Support for each other is a big one, and we can all play a part in awareness for others.   

So I started by emailing back and forth with the Tomlinson's and finding out what they knew about "gluten free" eating, preparation, cross contamination ~ we both tried to keep it simple, as they were feeling a bit overwhelmed I think at times with all this new information, so we kept to basics - I found an excellent article about cross contamination in preparing food for Celiacs or Gluten Free eating.   They in their shopping travels were able to speak to some local woman about Gluten Free - and were able to purchase some awesome products with that guidance.  And then I arrived ... we got ourselves a bit settled and then right away Ben pulled me to the side to talk about the food, they intended to feed us women very well (Ben was our Chef - Margie Romney-Aslett our sous chef - and decorator of the table extraordinaire, and our dear Chrissy she also was a huge part of the helping in the kitchen with Ben to put out amazing meals) and I was included in that loving caring attention and goodness. 

One of the most touching moments was at the very beginning of my stay with them ... our first meal ... Ben actually baked me my own loaf of gluten free goodness - and it was delicious.  The bread mix was from a local online company called "MOM's PLACE" and this bread was heavenly.  They also found a chicken noodle soup that was seriously the best I have tasted - I was kicking myself I did not take a picture of the can or the name of the company (as I did not recognize it).  It was awesome, so full of flavour and noodles, and all gluten free.  :)  They were careful with the cross contamination aspect, as you see my little meal was set out on an island away from the other breads and soups ~ so very thoughtful.  It was simple touches like this that kept me safe - so very appreciated.

The food they prepared all week was so thoughtful ... even the night that Ben cooked in cast iron crockpots over the coals - they did a separate crockpot for the chicken and potatoes served to me.  He gave an awesome effort to cook me my own crepes (may have looked a little wonky but they were oh so good!) and pancakes too.  They thoughtfully made sure I had every kind of snack available to me too - from salty to sweet.  And though we both had to check in every meal (because it was also on me to make sure if they had any questions I answered quickly as they were preparing food for a number of people) it was done in a way that I felt welcome and extremely cared for.  It certainly added to the whole experience of the retreat.  Here are a few pictures of the amazing dishes I enjoyed at the Retreat ~ and the wonderful people who took the time to make my experience one I will always cherish and hope to experience again in the future!!!

And this post would not be complete without writing about the other ladies that attended this retreat - I know there is so much negative media about Celiac and Gluten Free eating but I felt not one bit of a negative vibe from any of the people who were there, quite the opposite ~ they were loving and caring and there were even a couple other ladies that had dietary requirements that they did not feel comfortable coming forward about - once they saw I had it was much easier for them to voice these.  We should never be afraid to speak up about something that affects our health so directly.  I have to deeply thank all the Tomlinson's, Margie, Chrissy and all the wonderful ladies at the retreat ~ Melanni, Fay, Michelle, Laura, Iris and Shirly for making this week one of the best this year.  Your love and support in all of this has touched me in a way that I am finding hard to express.  And thank you so much Ben and Christy for all the care and attention you showed to keeping me well fed and feeling very welcome and cared for in your home - love you all!  Hugs 
Yummy Crepes - while they did not hold together as well they were delicious!

Cast Iron Crockpot Chicken and potatoes - amazing!!! Done on an open firepit, so cool.  Chrissy and Margie were the best sous chefs for Ben!  Hugs

Awesome breakfast dish and as the ingredients were all gluten free - including the Johnsonville Sausage - delicious!  Potatoe, Sausage and cheese strata

Special personal touches on the table always greeted us, was so amazing ~ we were made to feel so cared for. 

MMMMmmm Oatmeal with fruits (Gluten Free on the label) Yum.

It was a treat to come in for meals everyday ... from the amazing and delicious meals to the special touches on our plates. 

Gluten Free Pancakes for breakfast - fruits and bacon and gluten free sausage!  Yum

The special people who kept me safe - love them all - Christy, Ben, Margie and Chrissy

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