an honest conversation about food allergies

I always feel hesitant when talking about my food issues. as the rise of Celiac awareness happened, so did the gluten free diet fad and a backlash from those who think that gluten intolerance is imaginary. having never been formally diagnosed, it doesn't sound very convincing when I tell people "I know" that gluten upsets my system.

about 5 years ago when I thought that gluten might be a problem for me, I started cutting it out of my diet. and almost immediately felt so much better. I struggled to stick with it consistently though. I would have a bad day: pizza. we'd all go out for drinks and someone bought a round: beers. there was a birthday in the office: cake. I was traveling for work and my hosts ordered in lunch: sandwich. someone offered me something I shouldn't really eat and I felt rude saying no: you get the idea.

over time though, my issues worsened and I had to be more and more strict. last summer I took a sip of beer and immediately wanted to vomit. a bite of a sandwich turned into gut-stabbing pain in 5 minutes. I ate some cheeze its and had a headache for 3 days. someone accidentally gave me spiced rum instead of plain and I couldn't even keep water down the next day.

the symptoms of Celiacs or gluten intolerance aren't pretty. it's not just headaches, mood swings, acid reflux and stomach pains. it's digestive issues like bloating, gas, nausea, painful cramping, vomiting, indigestion and diarrhea. depending on what and how much you eat, these things can happen anywhere from instantaneously to over the following few days.

so the reason why I've never been tested? the only way to officially know if you have Celiacs or gluten intolerance, is to eat the gluten equivalent of four slices of bread per day for three whole months. then you have a blood test followed by intestinal biopsy.

going through that kind of torture just to confirm something that I already know - my body does not like to eat gluten - just didn't seem worth it.

earlier this week I mentioned that I was awaiting results of some allergy testing. because that's the way things seem to work - I got a call from the doctor's office about half an hour after hitting "publish."

it's taken me a few days to come to grips with my results. five new things have been added to my "can not eat" list: avocados. eggs. peanuts. almonds. pineapple.

wheat did show up in the testing, but not at a high enough level to be deemed an allergy. I admit I was kindof hoping it would, so I could have some kind of validation about my condition. but the IgE and IgG tests are for allergies and not intolerances. these test are also not 100% accurate. crab was the only shellfish to show up - and I've had pretty serious reactions to shrimp and lobster. only goat's milk was listed as an allergy, and yet I know my body doesn't handle any cow-based dairy well either.

it was all too easy to have a negative reaction to this. in fact, I went through all 5 stages of grief. anger: when I wanted to punch the doctor in the face because it felt like he was telling me my issues weren't real. bargaining: when I tried to recall all my past reactions to gluten and see if I had eggs or avocado at the same time. denial: when I ate the cheeze-its [hence the 3 day headache.] depression: a lot of inconsolable crying into a [gluten free] martini.

and then acceptance: when I reminded myself that I know my own body. that I've had years of experience and knowledge gained from reactions to gluten and dairy and shellfish. and that the real point of me doing this test was to see what else was causing trouble for my system.

so it was time to make a plan. I had to get serious about avoiding all gluten and dairy. no more occasional cheating with regular soy sauce. no more cheese and no more butter. and thanks to my new allergies - no more almond milk, mayo, peanut butter, guacamole, omelettes, or macarons.

the bad news is that this makes eating out in Taiwan, and also during our travels, just that much more difficult. [honestly just eating in general.]

the good news is that these newly discovered allergies are not severe or life-threatening [no hives or anaphylactic shock] and that if I cut them out of my diet for 3 to 6 months, I may be able to eat them again without problems. the other good news is that I've found rice milk and flaxmeal to use as substitutes, and it turns out that most of my allergies fall within the top 8 most common items [and there are a ton of food blogs out there with allergen-friendly recipes.]

so I've cut everything out, started writing down everything I eat and any symptoms I have, and did an extensive pinterest search for vegan, gluten and nut free desserts. while I'm not exactly thrilled with these results... it could have been much worse. I'm just thankful there are still things that I love that aren't banned. mostly: potato chips, wine, coffee, and kittens. [not for eating, obviously.]

do you have any food allergies or intolerances? how do you deal with them - and are there any great allergy-friendly resources out there?


life's adventures lately

sometimes you need to give yourself a little reminder - not so much of what you think you should be - but of who you already are.

it's been a busy few weeks around here. celebrating anniversaries and Chinese New Year, having girls nights and game nights, biking and hiking and yoga-ing and... well, a lot. here's a bit of a news update on what's been happening:

making summer travel plans

we've booked our airfare and accommodations, and I'm just too excited to keep it a secret any longer: this summer we will be traveling to both Turkey and Prague! Husband has been trying to get me to Istanbul ever since he first studied there ten years ago. and finally, I'm going. we'll be traveling around a few other places in Turkey before heading up to see friends in Prague for a week. Husband hasn't been to Turkey in 5 years, and neither of us have been to Prague - so consider this a request for recommendations!

exploring more of Taipei

while planning our summer escape, I've also been seeing much more of my home city. in the past few weeks I've been to several places for the first time. this includes: lounging with friends in Daan Park, followed by wandering the cute nearby neighborhood of Dongmen. accidentally stumbling into the opening of the Taipei Lantern Festival [to which I plan to return, camera at the ready] at the Taipei Expo Center. taking myself on a YouBike ride by the river and losing my phone for a half hour. and returning to shoot photos on Dihua Street, which inadvertently led to my first trip out to Tamsui.

waiting for results

in between all this activity, I've been trying not to fret over my impending results from an allergy test. I went in before the holiday to give blood for both IgE and IgG testing. though I've never had confirmation from a doctor, I've been lactose intolerant for 15 years, allergic to shellfish for 10, and have had issues with gluten for the past 5 [or probably longer.] and though I've been very careful with my diet, there seems to be something else upsetting my system. I've tried to keep from speculating what that might be... but of course I have my suspicions. regardless, I should have some definitive answers [I hope] at some point this week.

writing my manuscript

I've been working away [not each day but at least consistently] on my book manuscript. sometimes it feels hard, and a little selfish, to carve out time to write. but I'm learning to say no to things that aren't what I need right now, and to protect my time better. I'm 25,000 words into the latest draft. it's been gutted and the tenses are changing and I've reached one of the more difficult parts of my story. in fact, it was so difficult that I just skipped writing it the first time around. but. sometimes the hard parts are the ones that need to be told the most. so I'm writing it now.

celebrating expat wins

it seems silly that after nearly 4 years in Taiwan, I still have expat milestones left to cross. but last week I conquered a big one: successfully shipping an international package from the post office, all on my own. turns out it was ridiculously easy. we've always had someone to do all the forms and mail packages for us and so we never tried. yep, facepalm. but other than that, I've discovered that I look like I know what I'm doing in Taipei. I had a man approach me at the MRT station for help on buying fare and finding his station. and two girls were having issues returning their YouBikes and I helped them figure it out. obviously, I won't ever blend in like a local here. but it's nice to know I don't quite look like a tourist either.

so what's been going on with you lately? and do you have any recommendations or links for me on Turkey and Prague?


a misty mountain scooter adventure

let me tell you a story about the best dentist visit I ever had.

I really hate going to the dentist. or any kind of doctor, actually. even if there's nothing wrong with me I just get anxious about it. when we lived in Hsinchu, I managed to find a dentist who didn't completely terrify me. she was actually pretty great. so when we moved to Taipei, I decided I would go back down to keep seeing her, rather than go through the hassle [and torture] of trying to find someone new.

last fall, about the time I needed to make an appointment, I had a problem. I was indulging in my almost-nightly ritual snack of popcorn and wine when a kernel got stuck in my teeth. it hurt. really bad. I did my best to dig it out with floss and one of those tooth-picker things, but in the process I noticed a spot on my my molar that wasn't the right color. cue: cavity panic.

so I made an appointment and took the train down, fully expecting to be chastised then shot up with novocain and drilled. [we'll get to the mountains soon, I promise.] to try to combat what was sure to be an awful morning, I planned to meet up with a friend after my traumatizing experience. the last time I had a cavity filled they gave me gas to keep me calm [SO not exaggerating my anxiety about this, guys] so I wasn't sure what state I would be in. we didn't make any solid plans. at the least, I told her we could get coffee and she could laugh at me being all wacked out.

it turned out that my cavity wasn't a cavity. just an old filling that had started to darken. my dentist told me that if it really bothered me, she could drill it out and replace it. um, no thanks. so I left the dentist practically dancing with joy, and met my friend for a scoot. the weather was nice so we decided to celebrate my non-cavity by driving out to Wu Zhi Shan [Five Finger Mountain] about an hour outside of Hsinchu.

the further out of Hsinchu we went, the darker the sky became. we pulled over for emergency rain ponchos at 7-11 and not more than 10 minutes passed before we stopped again to put them on. everyone coming down the mountain towards us was drenched. my friend turned around.

"are you sure you want to keep going?"

the road was steep and her scooter doesn't have a very powerful motor. she warned me that I might have to get off and walk, that with the clouds so low we probably wouldn't have much of a view, but...

"we're already this far. I'm game if you are."

so we drove on. this is why we are friends.

when we reached the top we could see... pretty much zero view. but rain and views be damned, we were determined to have an adventure. besides, there were temples to explore. we found a stairway that led between buildings and up the mountain, to a temple that must have a stunning view on a clear day. it was part under construction, but the second level looked... well, maybe not open exactly, but not under construction.

"do you think we can climb up that stairway?"

"I don't see why not."

again, this is why we are friends.

clearly, someone else had been up there at one point for a smoke and a drink. and possibly to hang laundry to dry. we grabbed some quick shots and headed back. the rain really started coming down so we took shelter in a nearby pavilion. where I promptly stuck my face in a spiderweb while trying to take a photo. 

next we wandered along a muddy hiking trail, until we discovered some really large dragons hanging out under a rainbow. [I'm pretty sure that Taiwan is the only reason why anyone has ever uttered that sentence. or maybe drugs.]

just one of the many completely random and cheesy reasons to love Taiwan.

it was getting later in the afternoon, and we wanted to get back before dark. so we started walking back towards where the scooter was parked. but then we stopped and looked across the way...

"one more temple?"

duh. this is why we are friends.

even with our last detour, we still made it to her apartment before dark. my legs were soaked from the rain so I borrowed her hair dryer to use on my pants. we stopped for ramen and fried rice before she dropped me off at the train station. I left for Taipei with only one regret: that I didn't take a selfie of us in our crazy rain ponchos with the rainbow dragons.

so here's to friends who love to adventure, and to what will probably be: my best dentist visit ever.


behind the blog: a relationship Q+A

I hope you all had a lovely weekend, whether you celebrated Valentine's Day or not. Husband and I actually don't - we celebrate February 13th instead, because it is the anniversary of the night we met. this year we marked the occasion by hiking Elephant Mountain together and indulging in some tabletop Japanese barbecue. the weather this past week in Taipei has been gorgeous and sunny - pretty much perfect for a hike - and somehow I hadn't yet managed to drag him up that mountain.

my mind is pretty boggled to think it's been twelve years since that night on Beal Street, when two Michigan State freshmen met after a certain gentleman slipped down a flight of stairs thanks to the slushy, snowy weather. I don't think either of us could have predicted then what kinds of adventures life had in store for us. but eventually we ended up here. which is a pretty good place to be.

with all the anniversary and love business going on, it seemed like an opportune moment to answer some of your questions relating to Husband and I, and our relationship. first I want to clear up one thing that is often asked and for some reason I haven't shared: Husband's real name. it's Luke.

go ahead and do the arithmetic - our last name is Walker. take a moment if you need, but it probably makes a lot more sense now that we are both big Star Wars nerds right?

now that that's out of the way... I have more of your questions to answer below. I've combined and reworded a few things but hopefully stayed within the spirit of what was being asked. let me know if you have any more expat or travel questions down in the comments. and because I'm me, there's also some unrelated photos involved [from the gardens on Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown.] so, enjoy:

whose idea was it to move abroad?

Luke had always talked about wanting to spend a few years teaching abroad - so I guess his idea originally. I was open to the concept, but pretty particular on where I thought I wanted to live. Taiwan was definitely not on my list. about a year after we were married though, I was getting really frustrated with my work and was stressed out and unhappy all the time. he was teaching in the Philadelphia public school system then, and was going to lose his job due to budget cuts. I wanted to leave and he couldn't stay - so we signed up for an international teaching job fair.

how did you decide on Taiwan?

once we started looking at job openings, we realized that the most opportunities [and best cost of living to salary ratios] were located in Asia. Luke interviewed with several schools at the job fair. of the options available to us at the time we had to decide - Taiwan seemed like the best fit. in retrospect, it was a great choice we made. despite the occasional expat struggles, we are happy here. we've been able to pay off our debt, save for retirement, and travel the world.

what does your Husband teach?

Luke is a Social Studies teacher at an international high school, which follows an American curriculum [as most of the students are applying to go to university in the US.] World History has been his main course for a while, though over the years he has covered everything under Social Studies from Economics to African American History. he has such a wide variety of knowledge - I am constantly surprised when he rattles off some in-depth information on a place we're traveling to or some situation I'd never heard of. and he's always wanting to learn more. I think this is the part where I'm supposed to brag about what a dedicated and amazing teacher he is, in addition to being a Fulbright scholar and holding a Master's of Education from an Ivy League university, right?

why didn't you decide to teach in Taiwan as well?

I did consider becoming certified to teach when we moved abroad. but with the program being longer than our initial contract, it seemed silly to just dive in without knowing if I actually wanted to teach full time or how long we would stay abroad. I also thought about privately tutoring students or teaching English at a cram school [a place where kids go after regular school for English lessons.] those jobs are widely available here, and the reason why many English speakers move abroad.

I tested the educational waters by doing a lot of substitute teaching at our last school, for almost all grade levels 1-12. I also taught a non-academic blogging course for 2 hours per week [to some really great students!] and gave conversational English lessons to a few of the local teachers. but despite that, teaching isn't my passion. I'm lucky that Luke is supportive [and our situation financially viable] and I don't have to work just for the money.

how has moving abroad changed your relationship?

I think moving abroad was the best thing that we've done for our marriage. I can say without doubt that our relationship is stronger now than ever. but it certainly wasn't easy. we had a lot of challenges to face: from adjusting to being a single-income household to culture shock. and all at the same time. this experience has changed both of us, and we've been lucky that as we grow as individuals we can still grow together.

being an expat can be isolating. yes, we've made friends here and do our best to keep in touch with family and those back in the states. but we had to learn how to rely on and support each other - through situations we'd never imagined. food poisoning. job hunting. scooter crashes. mysterious allergies. writing a book. grieving a family member while not being able to travel home. through these trials we might not have otherwise experienced, we've grown closer and stronger, and learned to be more honest with one another.

how do you survive traveling together?

I think the most important thing is learning how to effectively communicate your needs. whether it's half an hour of alone time at the pool or a coffee break, you have to say what you want. your partner is not a mind reader. it also helps if you do your best to take care of those needs on your own - I always travel with snacks because I know I will be hungry. [and hunger leads to hanger, and no one wants to deal with that on vacation!]

our travel styles don't completely jive - I'm a spreadsheet-making planner and Luke is more "roll with it" - but over time we have found ways to work both into our trips. I know I need to speak up if there is something particular I have to do or see, but also try to leave room in the schedule for aimless wandering and spontaneous stops for ice cream. we also have come to accept it's ok not to spend every moment together. I don't mind if he wants to relax in the hotel and watch a movie while I go to the beach and take pictures. we both get to do what we want and everyone's happy.

when are you going to move home and have babies?

mom, was this you? first I should say that those events won't necessarily happen in that order. when I first told people we were moving abroad, the question I was asked most was: are you going to have a baby? that concept was a pretty scary to me then. but my opinion has changed with time, and after meeting so many incredible expat parents and their amazing internationally-minded and multi-lingual children. having a baby while we are still living in Taiwan is definitely possible.

but as far as when we might move back to America - this is actually a pretty difficult question. Luke and I have obviously discussed this, at length and in depth. we definitely miss a lot of things and people from the states... but there are also a lot of great things about our life here. the best answer I can give is: when it's right for us. [whether that's before or after babies, only time will tell.]

phew. I hope you enjoyed this peek into our lives! and again, feel free to leave any other questions below for me to answer later on :)


hiking Auckland's volcano: Rangitoto Island

while researching things to do while staying in Auckland, we found that we could take ferry boats to several nearby islands. one of which just happened to be a dormant volcano. sunshine, city views, lava caves... a day trip to Rangitoto Island was a no-brainer.

the trail was relatively easy, winding through lava fields half grown over by New Zealand's crazy amazing and diverse plant life. [you guys don't even want to know how many plant photos I took this day that didn't make the cut for this post, trust me.]

we made it to the peak in about an hour, where we were greeted with a stunning 360 view. the city of Auckland is just across the way - apparently some visitors choose to visit Rangitoto via a 2 hour kayak from downtown. [nope, we took the ferry.]

we ate our picnic lunches at the top, though we made a hasty departure once we discovered a swarm of bees was hanging around the area.

on our way back down we detoured to the lava caves. I did not actually go in the caves, as it involved scraping yourself though a narrow and dark passage where there were no lights. people kept emerging from the opening, dirty and wide-eyed, claiming that you couldn't see anything anyway.

we did go through a lava trench or tunnel... maybe not as cool-sounding as a lava cave but less likely to twist an ankle or concuss yourself in the dark.

we reached the ferry dock with a few moments to spare. while the rest of our crew took a break, I ran off to take a few last photos of the trail and coast. I was maybe a little obsessed with New Zealand's blue skies and blue water. and the mountains and... well, everything.

tips for hiking Rangitoto

we took the Fullers ferry to the island from Auckland, a 25 minute ride that departs 3 times per day. keep the boat times in mind or else you'll be waiting a loooong time. I didn't notice anywhere to buy food, so pack a lunch and snacks, and bring plenty of water. and just like anywhere in NZ you will most definitely be wanting sunglasses and sunscreen.

ps: there's still time to ask me your questions about Husband, expat life, Taiwan, etc. use this form or just ask in the comments below!
hiking the volcano on Rangitoto Island off the coast of Auckland - a great day trip to add to your New Zealand itinerary.
hiking the volcano on Rangitoto Island off the coast of Auckland - a great day trip to add to your New Zealand itinerary.
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