As anxious as I've been for 2014 to be over - a hospital stint, a celiac diagnosis, cancelled vacations and money stress - see ya! - I'm embarrassed to admit 2015 has gotten off to a slow start for me. Call it perpetual jet lag, the persistent effects of accidental glutenings or just general malaise, but I've felt a bit like a recent university grad, excited yet overwhelmed by everything that lay before her. Don't count me defeated just yet, though.
The new year dawned for me back in the US, where I was basking not only in years-overdue family time and the ease of daily interactions in English, but in some eye-openingly delicious food. Be it the ubiquitous allergy-friendly menus, plethora of 100% gluten-free establishments or just the fact that I could find a safe-for-me version of just about everything in a standard grocery store, but I was in heaven. The Berliner eye-roll/huffy response to requesting special food preparation was replaced with the knowing Portlander smile and nod. The weight that lifted off my shoulders was immense and warmed my food-loving soul more than I ever though possible post-celiac diagnosis. But the easy road isn't what life is really about... is it?
So I returned to Berlin a bit perplexed and conflicted. For the first time in years, I felt a pull from the US again, and I wasn't sure what to make of it. Did I really want to go back to the States? Was I done living the expat life? Was I just letting all this past year's frustrations build up and taking it out on my adopted home? Sure, it would be nice to be able to walk in anywhere without rehearsing conversation possibilities in my head first and not having to plan outings carefully around when I can be home for something safe to eat. But are German's lack of culinary diversity/allergy understanding and my own ineptitude at foreign language enough to make me want to throw in the towel? After this last year, I admit it's tempting.
When my intense jet lag finally let up enough for my husband and energetic dog to drag me all around the neighborhood, I realized what I had lost sight of. As much I let myself fall a little in love with Portland, my heart still belongs to Berlin. Berlin, with it's crazy-gorgeous old architecture, abundant trees and parks, clean streets, art and creativity everywhere. Even with the oppressive grey and rather gruff people, the latest El Bocho to go up and filling up bags of my favorite sweets are just a few of the things that still brighten my day, no matter how many days we've been without sun. Norwegians are consistently rated some of the happiest people on earth and they live in near-darkness for months. Clearly, their outlook is something worth practicing.
The answer doesn't lie in the crippling paradox of choice offered everywhere in the US, it's about the right things being offered. And right now, Berlin still feels right. The ease of European travel, the ease of walking everywhere, great health care (have I mentioned my €75 week-long hospital stay?), six weeks of vacation. Though I wouldn't complain about more quality gluten-free choices and some Talenti gelato in our grocery...
And so I begin this year as so many others do: with resolutions of improvement. With many of my health issues answered, I am (slowly but surely) regaining my strength and focus, something that had been greatly holding me back before. First and foremost is the language. I know I'll never be one of those linguistics pros I so admire, but I can do better than I have been. I can study more, practice more, try harder. German is hard, but it's not impossible.
It's also time I stopped feeling sorry for my limited eating situation and dove headfirst into the kitchen again. One of the greatest things to come out of my years in Germany was discovering the time and passion for cooking. I went from not knowing how to cook basics like eggs or bacon to making meals my mother demands recipes for, hosting Thanksgiving dinners and baking treats that resulted in wide eyes and marriage proposals. If I can manage that, I know I can get to the same level without any gluten. Portland's amazing gluten-free bakeries and restaurants proved that to me (more on that next week!).
So while my love of the written word still remains strong, I will rebuild that slowly, out from under the foggy haze of a long-starved celiac brain. While I plan to post here a bit less, I hope to do so with more intent. I want to mull over my words more carefully, take the time to think about what I want to put out there and focus on the things that will make me whole again in real, everyday life. Food, which for a time became an uncertain enemy, is something I need to reclaim. And not just any food, great, amazing, mouth-watering soul-nourishing food. This is my challenge for the new year, for myself and hopefully, to share with others.
I was struck by the Martin Luther King Jr. quote making the rounds last week, the one that starts: "If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk...". The last few years, I was definitely crawling. While I might not be flying, or even running, anytime soon, moving forward is imperative. It might sound overly simplistic, but it's a message I could stand to be reminded of at this time in my life. I know I will still have bad days with this stupid disease, days where I get sick from accidentally ingesting gluten or where I break down in the grocery because I can't even find all the safe ingredients to make dinner, but I'm determined to meet this challenge head-on. As Dr. King also said: "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." Bring it, 2015.