One thing about celiac disease: when it’s affecting your family, you quickly become an expert on the subject. This is good, because everyone and their brother will ask questions! Below are some of the most common inquiries my wife (and I, in turn) hear.

Q. Is celiac disease the same as gluten intolerance?

A. No. A gluten intolerance means you react to gluten (wheat, rye, and barley). Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder. Someone with a gluten intolerance may be able to handle some gluten, although this is not a hard and fast rule. Individuals with celiac disease should not eat any gluten, period.

Q. Is it contagious? Is it genetic?

A. Yes, one bite from a celiac and you’ll be going around moaning “gluten free, gluten free…” Just kidding. Celiac disease is NOT contagious. It is genetic, which means if your brother, cousin, or another blood relation has it, you may be at risk.

Q. Does it go away?

A. Nope. You can’t outgrow or reverse celiac disease. Think of it this way: there’s a little “gluten” gene inside some people. If the gene is turned “on,” they develop celiac disease. Once it’s turned on, it can’t be turned off. This means that a 20-year-old who was just diagnosed and an 80-year-old who’s had their gene “on” for three decades are equally at risk of gluten contamination.

Q. How much gluten can your wife safely have?

A. My wife can have exactly no gluten. Industry standards vary, but as a general rule worldwide, if a product has more than 20 parts-per-million that are gluten, it cannot be labeled gluten free. This makes cross-contamination (gluten foods coming in contact with gluten free foods) a real issue. We buy oats that are grown separately from other grains and tested for gluten.

Q. So, if I eat wheat and touch your wife’s food, will she get sick?

A. That depends. Again, it has to do with cross-contamination. In my wife’s case, she can be around gluten (our parents’ homes are not gluten free); she just can’t eat it. Some individuals are more sensitive and avoid even touching things like bread or breakfast cereals. Many celiacs can share a gluten kitchen; they just make sure to have their own utensils, pans, peanut butter jar, etc. When in doubt, ask.

Q. How do you eat? (The polite way of asking, “how do you survive!?”)

A.  Pretty well—my wife’s a great cook. Seriously, we can still eat lots of “regular” foods. Yesterday, for example, we had chicken curry over potatoes. Delicious! Some celiacs will develop an intolerance for casein, a component of most dairy products, and have to avoid dairy as well. Overall, however, we eat lots of fruits and vegetables, other grains like corn or rice, meats, and legumes. There’s also a thriving gluten-free market of breads, rolls, granola, etc., although they are usually more expensive than their gluten counterparts.

Q. Where do you shop? Is it expensive?

A. We shop at the usual grocery store chains (we frequent Costco and visit Wegman’s and ACME occasionally), along with Trader Joe’s and other natural or health food stores. We don’t shop at stores that are unhelpful when we ask about any possible gluten contamination. (I’m looking at you, ShopRite.) Bread replacements are expensive, but the majority of our food doesn’t cost any more. Apples, for example, are gluten free regardless of price, but cheaper at our farmers’ market. A friend introduced us to a nearby discount grocery store and it’s kept our food budget much lower!

Q. So… Can you eat at my house?

A.  Probably yes—with good communication! If you’re trying to cook gluten free for someone, the best route may be to invite them to cook with you, so you understand exactly what their needs are. When that’s not possible, ask questions. Celiacs would rather explain their specific dietary restrictions and food preparation needs than offend you. Gluten contamination is a high price to pay. Let me put it this way. Have you ever had the flu? Headache, nausea, possibly vomiting, feeling sick all day, super tired, achy? For someone with celiac disease, one little iota of gluten could mean hours or days feeling like that. Worse, it means damage to the digestive tract that could take weeks to heal. Eating around gluten is possible—many celiacs live with shared gluten/gluten free kitchens, they just have to keep their food items gluten free. Again, ask questions.

Q. So, what happens when your wife eats gluten?

A. When gluten enters the digestive tract of a person with celiac disease, an antibody is created to fight it. This same antibody also attacks the small intestine’s surface. Without the nutrient-absorbing properties of the small intestine, the body starts losing nutrients instead of gaining them.

Q. How did you find out about it?

A. After giving birth to our son, my wife began having stomach pains, headaches, and constant hunger. The hunger didn’t particularly surprise us: she was nursing our son, so “eating for two” was expected. When she was still feeling sick 6 months later, however, we began to wonder if there were other factors. She’d also lost too much weight postpartum. Nearly a year after she gave birth, we asked our doctor to test her blood for celiac disease. The results came back positive (sky high, in fact), so we immediately began cutting gluten out of her diet. (On hindsight, she should also have had an endoscopy to confirm the diagnosis before cutting out gluten; we wish our family doctor had suggested it. Live and learn.) Eating gluten free gave her some immediate symptom relief, and gradual healing.

Q. How common is celiac disease? Should I be tested?

A. Around 1 in every 133 Americans, or about 1%, have diagnosed celiac disease. The peanut allergy rate for the U.S. is also around 1%, for comparison. You should be checked for celiac disease if you have a close relative who has it, or if you have the symptoms. (And remember that I’m not a doctor, so don’t take my word for it, but look into it yourself.) A word of warning: don’t assume you have celiac disease without being tested. You might have some other serious condition that should be treated differently. Also don’t let your doctor assume you don’t have celiac disease if you’re showing symptoms; even doctors can make mistakes. If you suspect you have it, don’t go off gluten until after you’ve been tested, or you might get a false negative.


If you’ve got a question to add, comment below. Also feel free to share any experiences with living gluten free.






Americana, Uncategorized

Warning: we’re about to get into PG-13 territory here. (That means if you’re under 13, read this with a parent.)

Everyone has had one of those uncomfortable moments when they have to discuss something they’d rather not think about, let alone verbalize. For me, this is one of those moments.

There’s a movie coming out for one night in the U.S. on May 16th. It’s called The Abolitionists, and it’s about the child sex slave trade.

I told you this was going to be uncomfortable.


Tim Ballard, the CEO of Operation Underground Railroad (O.U.R.), the organization behind The Abolitionists, has made a career of rescuing child sex slaves. The Abolitionists shows his team’s story.

Now, I’m going to be honest: I don’t know yet if I’ll see the movie. This movie isn’t a work of fiction. It’s going to be disturbing, graphic, and tragically real.

It will also be inspiring.

If we’re going to be our best selves, you and I have to face evil, not hide from it—and the child sex slave trade is evil. I’m not casting blame on anyone’s ignorance, and I’m certainly not blaming the children who are victims. Whether I watch The Abolitionist or not, I’m glad it was made, for this reason: when enough good people find out about evil, when it’s dragged into the light of day, then good will overcome.

The goal of O.U.R. can be summed up best in their own words: “To the children: Hold on. We are on our way. To the captors and perpetrators: Be afraid. We are coming for you.”

I can support that.

If you feel like you can handle watching The Abolitionist, then please do so. If you can’t (and trust me, I understand!), that’s OK too. Regardless, you might try doing one or more of the following:

  • Buy out a theater. Quoting TheAbolitionistMovie.com, “Share the movie with your friends, family, coworkers and community by buying out a theater. For a small price, you can reserve your own theater today. In addition, a portion of your purchase will go directly to rescue missions.”
  • Go see the movie.
  • Check out O.U.R.’s site for donation, volunteer, and event opportunities here.
  • And of course, if you’re the praying kind, pray. I know prayer works, and it’s something you and I can do right now.

Will just watching a movie save any children? Nope. It might inspire other good deeds, however, and that makes it worth sharing.

I hope, if I’d been born 200 years ago, that I would have been against slavery in any form. I’m certainly against slavery now.




©2016. Check out TheAbolitionistsMovie.com and OurRescue.org for more details.


It has come to my attention that human beings tend to think “happy” and “comfortable” are synonyms.

At least, the human being I know best (myself) has thought so in the past, and judging by the actions of other humans I know, I’m not alone. There’s just one problem: we’re wrong.

Before we get too far, let’s be clear on two things:

  1. By “happy,” I mean a life of “enjoying, showing, or marked by pleasure, satisfaction, or joy,” to borrow a definition from Wordnik.
  2. By “comfortable,” I’m talking about a life that is habitual, non-challenging, and generally easygoing.

Now technically, there are times when a life filled with happiness is also comfortable. If I have a habit of brushing my teeth twice a day, then I’ll be comfortable in my brushing habit, and happy when my dentist tells me I have no cavities. Win/Win!

Unfortunately, I’ve sometimes acted or thought as though the two words always mean the same thing. We all do it:

“I’m comfortable in my current job, so it must be making me happy.”

“My [insert your favorite harmful habit] is comfortable for me, so it must make me happy.”

“I have a habit of playing Farmville for an hour each day, so it must make me happy.”

Rock climbing teaches the difference between comfortable and happy. As a Boy Scout, I learned how to rock climb from an awesome Scouting leader and friend. He taught me how to use handholds, how to tie the different knots, and how to not die (always a good skill). He also taught me one more thing:

Challenge your comfort level if you want to be a happy climber.

Often, I’d reach what I thought was my limit. I’d be soaked in sweat, even—no, especially—my fingers would be sweating. My muscles would ache, and my legs would be shaking from exertion. So, I’d call down, “Falling,” the signal to lower a climber to the ground. And then, my scout leader would ask,

“Are you sure?”

Well, drat, when he asked me that, I’d try again. Sometimes I’d make it higher, sometimes I’d simply drip another gallon of perspiration, but always I felt better about myself. I’d feel happy.

That’s how life works. Now, don’t assume I’m perfect at challenging myself or not stagnating in comfortableness. I’m still working on it, and sometimes life is so crazy that being comfortable is all I can handle! What gives me real, lasting joy, however, isn’t the comfortable moments. It’s the moments that cost blood, sweat, and tears.

Looking into my best friend’s eyes and hearing the words, “you may kiss the bride,” after two years of awkward dates (just ask my wife).

Feeling your son’s tired head finally fall onto your shoulder, trusting you implicitly, after hours of carrying him.

Successfully completing a college course that took days away from my life in studying, writing, editing, rewriting, starting my paper over—you get the idea!

So, the next time you’re feeling complacent in being comfortable, and you’re about to yell “Falling…”

Are you sure?








Common Cents, Uncategorized

Different families have different traditions. Our family has a yard sale tradition.

When I say “yard sale,” I’m talking generally about yard sales, garage sales, estate sales, community yard sales–everything but consignment sales.  Come springtime, my wife and I enjoy scouring our town for neon paper signs on yards, stop signs, and telephone poles. Whether we discover a great find or not, it’s a blast!

Shockingly to me, my wife was not a big yard sale person before we married. (I have my own flaws, of course: I had no idea how good chicken curry was until she made it, for example.) Our first yard sale experiences consisted of my teaching my wife the art of haggling, and explaining why all yard sales are not created equal. 2+ years later, she’s a veteran. With yard sale novices in mind, however, here are 5 tips for those of you trying to save a buck in today’s economy. Also one tip for those of you on the selling side of yard sales.

  1. Have items in mind before you go. While yard sales are always interesting, they can also be a little overwhelming at first. Having an idea of what you need helps you to shut out all the stuff being sold and look for exactly what you want. Otherwise you might find yourself driving home with a bag full of junk you don’t really need.
  2. Set a cash or price limit. On a good Saturday, we might visit 30 or more yard sales, so budgeting is a must! Having a cash limit (or a price limit on certain larger items, like furniture) is a good way to avoid overspending.
  3. Have cash. This should be obvious, but I’ve made the mistake of not having physical dollar bills on me. Yard sales don’t usually take Discover. It’s also wise to carry a variety of bills, but not more than you’re willing to spend (see tip #2).
  4. Haggle. 9 times out of 10, the person selling their old stuff is willing to lower the price they’re asking. Often they just want the item gone! This can be tricky at first, but it’s actually a fun part of the yard sale game. Try things like suggesting a lower price than you’re willing to pay: $4 instead of $5, for instance. Or find the three items you want to buy, and offer a combined price. A question as simple as, “would you take $5 instead of $10?” can save you nicely. And always make your offer with a smile. 🙂
  5. Learn to perform a “yard scan.” When my wife and I enter a neighborhood with dozens of yard sales, we don’t stop at every single home. Instead, we  take a slow drive down the street, checking for items that suggest what we’re looking for. It’s a safe bet, for example, that the house selling a box of vinyl records and an electric guitar isn’t to have clothing for a toddler.

And now, one word of advice for those holding yard sales: WRITE LARGER SIGNS. If I can’t read your sign clearly from my car, chances are I won’t stop. My favorite signs are the ones that just say “YARD SALE” with a big black arrow pointing towards the right street.


For those of you who are already making your signs legible, bless you.

There you have it! Now go save a buck or two when your neighbors start spring cleaning.

Oh, and most important: have fun!






It’s that time of the year here: lawnmowers are being taken out, gardens are being planned, and Claritin-D sales are about to skyrocket once again. (Darn you, pollen!) Our local library is into the spirit of things and has started placing gardening books in strategic locations where unsuspecting customers might be accosted. Last week, I was confronted by Gardening With Less Water, by David A. Bainbridge. It’s one of those books that does exactly what it promises: teaches how to double, even triple, your garden’s water efficiency. Mr. Bainbridge discusses wicks, porous pipes, and ollas, among other things.

What’s an olla, you ask? Besides being yet another word that my spell-check isn’t aware of (seriously?), it’s an unglazed clay pot. Nothing fancy—some gardeners just use terracotta plant pots as ollas. The key, however, is that because it’s unglazed, it waters for you. Bury it up to its neck in the ground, top it off with water, and put a lid on it to keep water in and bugs out.

An artist's interpretation of an olla at work.
An artist’s interpretation of an olla at work.

Plant roots will naturally pull the water through the olla’s porous sides as needed. This allows all of the water to be used efficiently: almost no water is lost to evaporation or runoff.

Gardening explains the history and use of ollas, and other super-efficient watering methods. (The techniques described are as old as civilization, perhaps older.) Some thoughts:

  • Unfortunately for me, the East Coast (US) is a wet place to live. Unlike the desert climates many of the book’s methods thrive in, we struggle not with too little H20, but sometimes too much. Still, no knowledge is wasted, and I plan to use one method, wicking, this summer. Desert gardeners will see more dramatic results from using Gardening methods than those in damp climates.
  • Mulch is rarely mentioned in Gardening, but it is mentioned. Long term, I wonder if mulching techniques such as “lasagna gardening” (layering different kinds of material) would work well with Mr. Bainbridge’s water-efficient methods. Perhaps my wife and I will have to include a gardening “experiment station” in our backyard of awesomeness someday, so we can try this.
  • The business applications of water-efficient gardening are intriguing. Organizations with large buildings could use a mixture of rain collection (discussed in Gardening) and “green roof” techniques to save on long-term heating and cooling expenses. (“Green roofs” refers to buildings with a growing rooftop: it’s a modern take on the sod roofs and roof gardens of the past.) Food businesses may find that land previously thought unusable could, with the propers methods, be extremely productive. The upfront costs will probably be higher, but long term costs would be lower. (And in some places, businesses will find tax deductions in place for water-efficient gardening methods.)
  • There was no mention of aquaponics, that I could find. Aquaponics (combining fish farming with hydroponics, or no-soil gardening) is often touted as requiring less water for both the fish and the plants. With his interest in water efficiency, I’d be interested in Mr. Bainbridge’s opinion on aquaponics versus the more traditional techniques described in his book.

Gardening With Less Water should be a fun read for anyone with a green thumb—or those of us whose green thumbs are still growing.




©2016 (including the picture)

Common Cents, Uncategorized

The problem with hindsight is that it’s always so obvious. “Well, duh,” I tell myself, “if I’d known THEN what I know NOW, of course I would have bought a Windows phone!”

Actually, I’ve never wished I bought a Windows phone. (Has anyone ever wished that?)

Let’s use a better example: cars. My first car was a Kia Spectra, stick shift. If you’ve never seen or owned one, be grateful. It was old, beat up, and lasted about 3 months. In a fun twist of fate, the transmission wore out on the way to an Entreprise car dealership. Here it’s pictured dying on the side of the road, moments before being towed off to car heaven (or the alternative… probably the alternative).

Kia Spectra


I’d tell you how much I paid for it upfront and in maintenance, but I’m too embarrassed.

Now, McCTaft.com is about helping people be their best selves, and that includes making car decisions. So, what would older and wiser McCTaft tell younger, naive McCTaft about cars?

  • Learn to haggle. I got this part right, and managed to talk the seller down (a little) before buying. This also meant not buying the first couple of cars I inquired about: if someone wouldn’t budge on price, I’d walk away.
  • If you’re buying used (and a lot of “first car” buyers are), have an emergency fund! Many home finance gurus, Dave Ramsey for example, suggest $1,000.00 as a “uh-oh” or “Murphy’s Law” fund, and I agree with them. This is another one younger McCTaft got right: when looking for a car, I didn’t even bother looking at one that would leave me with little or no emergency cash. Think about it: if you spend all your savings on a used car, and something important breaks a month later, you’d better have a way to pay for repairs.
  • Talk to a good mechanic, and take their advice. The first part of this, I got right, the second… I blatantly ignored. My parents’ mechanic advised that I stay away from older Kia models. What did I buy? A really old Kia. Guess who got to eat crow?
  • Be realistic about how long your car will last. I poured way too much cash into minor and major repairs for that pile of scrap. Without damaging my pride too much, I can tell you that I could have made payments on a much, much better car for less than that thing cost me per month. Ouch. What’s really sad is that I didn’t need most of the repairs: why replace the tires on a car that won’t live long enough to see the tread wear? A rule of thumb that some families use: if repairs are costing us the same, on average, as a car payment, it’s probably time for a new car. Saving that money to make a bigger down payment on (or outright buy) a newer car would have been a much better choice. (Younger McCTaft bows to older McCTaft’s wisdom.)
  • Unless you can pay cash for a new(er) car–which is an admirable goal–start working on a (good) credit history. Don’t, however, go into debt for it! Using a credit card responsibly could help. Buying an expensive computer you don’t need and making payments on it? Not so much. I got the no debt part right–unfortunately, my lack of a credit history meant I was locked into higher interest payments on my next car.

I’m sure there are other things older McCTaft could tell younger McCTaft, but for now this will do. In the meantime, older McCTaft is going to have a friendly chat with his mechanic about new wheel bearings on a solid, comfortable, and reliable hatchback, which should last much longer than its predecessor.

What would you tell your younger self about buying a car?




©2016 (and yes, Microsoft and Kia own the Windows and Spectra brands, respectively.)





This post wouldn’t have happened without the optimistic Facebook post of a friend, and the encouragement of my wife. Thanks, you two.

The purpose of McCTaft.com is to help individuals be their best selves (myself included). That’s why, as tempting as it is, I’m not going to rant and rave in current political fashion. Not to get all geeky, but to paraphrase Yoda:

  • Fear (of job loss, radical Islam, etc.) leads to anger (at national leaders, communities, etc.)
  • Anger leads to hate (of the “other party,” of religions, of candidates)
  • Hate leads to suffering (more job loss, less global stability, more expensive health insurance, etc.)

So, in an attempt to stay away from the Dark Side, I won’t be fear mongering, angrily insulting, or encouraging suffering on this blog. What I will do is list a few of the things that give me hope for America: an “American Vision,” if you will.

  • We have the capability to elect new leadership. If we, the American people, are willing to focus on electing leaders who keep each other in check, who say, “You know what? Let’s think before we enact,” then we may be able to get through the next presidency without losing too many of our freedoms.
  • We still have mothers and fathers. If my wife and I are willing to teach our son the Golden Rule; if he sees that my wife and I work as a team, even when we disagree; if he sees us acting in a charitable, Christian way; and if other parents are doing the same thing; then maybe, just maybe, the next generation will be able to cooperate with a respect and dignity that seems to have disappeared in today’s political race.
  • Last but not least, we have our hearts. It’s cheesy to say, but no matter what happens over the next four years, my heart will be as free as it ever has been. That’s what evil, in any form, just can’t grasp: that no matter how hard it tries to squelch faith, or hope, or free thinking, or right living, it can’t penetrate the heart until the heart surrenders. And I, for one, am in no mood to hand my heart over to anyone. (Well, except my wife, who stole it before we got married — but we’re discussing America here, not our love story.) Whatever happens over the next four years, or forty-four years, my heart will still know, and I’ll still teach our children, that

“all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Call it a new sunrise, call it a phoenix, call it what you want — but the principle called Freedom will stand and rise, again and again, because that is the American Vision.