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  • Melissa Blanco
    Melissa Blanco

    Gluten-Free Dining in Maui, Hawaii

    Caption: Gluten-free travel to Hawaii is possible! Photo: CC-Jordan Emery

    Celiac.com 10/19/2010 - The plane soared above the vast, blue Pacific Ocean as the gorgeous state of Hawaii loomed beneath it.  When we descended into our tropical destination of Maui, my stomach was a bundle of excited energy, with visions of walks along the beautiful sandy beaches and lounging poolside, soaking in the sun’s rays.  My husband and I’d planned this trip for months—budgeted for the most cost effective airfare, researched affordable hotels, packed swimsuits and summer clothing for our family of five.  Yet, as every person with celiac disease understands, traveling has its hidden dangers of gluten-contaminated food, restaurants that aren’t attuned to the needs of food intolerance sufferers, and the common question of: what am I going to eat when I’m away from my comfort zone, away from my home?
    Our adventure began in a resort on the Ka‘anapali Shores of Maui, as the sun was setting and a warm breeze rustled through the swaying palm trees.  While my family mapped out their wish list of activities to embark on during our paradise vacation, I brainstormed what I’d eat in the land of sugar cane, flowered leis, and tropical fruits.  As the warm sun rose each morning, I ate the breakfast bars I’d packed in my suitcase along with a cup of Hawaiian Kona coffee, which we purchased after arriving.  For coffee lovers, I highly recommend it, www.konacoffee.com.  Kona coffee was available at the hotel gift shop, grocery store, and sold as whole beans packaged at the local Starbucks.
    Although my diet for the week relied heavily on grilled chicken salads, fresh fruits, vegetables, and almonds, I also sampled local restaurants with my family.  We were interested in venues that offered a children’s menu, had a welcoming and fun atmosphere, and were possibly places providing a chance for exploration and cultural experience.

    Cheeseburger in Paradise
    Anyone who’s ever listened to the song, “Cheeseburger in Paradise” by Jimmy Buffet, will understand my desire to eat at the restaurant.  Maui’s Cheeseburger in Paradise is located on Front Street in beautiful Lahaina.  The two story restaurant sits beside the water, as a cool breeze wafts through a windowless dining area, while patrons enjoy cocktails and their signature burgers and steak fries.  When I spoke to the hostesses, dressed in festive grass skirts, I was informed that they did not have a gluten-free menu, but could accommodate gluten intolerant guests by serving burgers without buns and salads.  Although I contemplated ordering one of the grilled salads, I ultimately decided upon the signature Cheeseburger in Paradise, minus the bun, and a basket of sweet potato fries.  I might have been tempted to try the steak fries as well, but learned from my server that they are flavored with a seasoning salt containing gluten.  It was a pleasant experience and my only wish was that I’d have brought a license plate to hang on the restaurant wall with others from across the country.  If interested, check out their website at, www.cheeseburgerland.com.

    Old Lahaina Luau
    Also located on Front Street in Lahaina, Hawaii, this Luau is worth attending if only for the traditional Hawaiian Hula performance.  The Old Lahaina Luau is a family affair located beside the ocean, providing a beautiful sunset view, as ceremony and tradition are celebrated following pre-dinner learning activities for both adults and children.  Upon entering the Luau, girls are presented with a flower for their hair and everyone is given a fresh flower lei.  Adults are offered the signature island alcoholic beverage, a Mai tai—it is up to the patron whether or not to accept it.  Before attending the Luau we called in advance and requested a gluten-free menu.  This gluten-free request was confirmed by my server when I arrived.  Additionally, I was presented with a complete food ingredient list by him for the buffet.  I would advise anyone with a gluten intolerance to request a gluten-free meal because while reading the ingredient list, I discovered most of the dishes contained soy sauce.  As I joined my family in choosing fresh fruits, salad, and vegetables from the buffet line, my server placed a warm, freshly prepared gluten-free meal of grilled chicken breasts and steamed vegetables where I was seated.  Overall, it was an amazing night and a wonderful time to experience a traditional Lu‘au while enjoying a delicious meal.  For more information or to make a reservation: www.oldlahainaluau.com.

    Pacific Whale Foundation Lana‘i Snorkel and Dolphin Watch Eco-Adventure
    The non-profit Pacific Whale Foundation offers several eco-adventures for people wishing to experience the marine life of Hawaii.  We chose to take the five hour Snorkel and Dolphin Cruise, which provided a continental breakfast, barbeque lunch, and refreshments.  After departing from Lahaina Harbor, snorkel gear and flippers in hand, we sailed patiently through the choppy waters of the Pacific Ocean in search of dolphins.  We weren’t disappointed when about an hour into our adventure we spotted several spinner dolphins spectacularly jumping out of the pristine blue water to entertain us.  In preparation for this voyage, I called ahead to inquire about food offerings and was assured that a gluten-free meal would be provided to me.  I came to find out, while on the cruise, that it was basically a standard meal for all passengers, in which I was to choose only the food that didn’t contain gluten.  As I live with a family who normally consumes gluten, this picking and choosing was not uncommon to me.  For breakfast, I sampled fresh pineapple and passed on the banana bread.  For lunch, I ate barbecued chicken with lettuce and tomato.  As a service to vegetarians, a veggie burger is provided upon request.  I would certainly recommend this cruise for people that are interested in dolphin sightings or who want to be introduced to snorkeling.  For those who have celiac disease, I’d also suggest bringing along some extra snacks.  For more information, www.pacificwhale.org.

    Hard Rock Café Maui
    In an effort to introduce my children to the cultural likes of good old rock and roll, I suggested that we eat dinner at the Hard Rock Café, located in the Old Lahaina Center, of Maui.  I was happy to find that a children’s menu was available, but slightly disappointed to learn that a gluten-free menu wasn’t.  Our server, however, was more than helpful, willing to look at food ingredients in the computer for me and alert me to items containing gluten.  Unfortunately, the nachos I’d been craving contained wheat, so I instead ordered a cheeseburger, minus the bun.  It was my second cheeseburger of the week and I was truly unable eat a quarter of it because it was such a generous portion.  The atmosphere was lively and loud, nothing less than what I’d expect from a Hard Rock Café.  It was a fun night out and I was happy to leave with a Hard Rock Café Maui tee-shirt from the restaurant gift shop.  If you’re looking for a quieter venue and are interested in seafood, there is a Bubba Gump Shrimp Company located directly across the street from the Hard Rock Café, providing shrimp and lots of Forrest Gump memorabilia.  Hard Rock Café’s website is www.hardrock.com.  Bubba Gump Shrimp’s website is www.bubbagump.com.

    Our vacation to Maui was primary restricted to the beautiful Ka‘anapali Shores and town of Lahaina, therefore I didn’t explore a lot of the island, nor did I locate any grocery stores providing a gluten-free selection.  This is not to say that they don’t exist, rather, that I was not able to shop at one.  I’d recommend travelers to take their own gluten-free snacks, as long as they are approved through the agricultural inspection.  Hawaii is a state full of fresh produce, including savory pineapple, seafood, and sweet potatoes, which provide many healthful options for those with celiac disease.  My family also enjoyed the thirst quenching and tasty shaved ice, www.ululanisshaveice.com, and the extremely delicious frozen treat, gelato, and its dairy-free counterpart, sorbetto, www.onogelatocompany.com.

    For the residents of Maui, I appreciate your understanding and willingness to accommodate my gluten intolerance.  To you I say, “mahalo.”


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    Informative and interesting experience you have shared. Thanks. An addition to the list of destinations where gluten free food is available.

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    I went to Maui a year ago.


    The luau I went to was the Feast at Lele. There is no buffet. They bring all the food to the table. When the dish contained gluten my server would bring me a similar dish that had been made gluten free. I did not miss out on anything.


    Lunch at Ma'la in Lahaina was wonderful. They did not have a gluten-free menu, but they said a gluten free meal was not a problem. We got there before lunch time and they opened early to serve us. We had organic chicken, rice and garlic spinach. Normally we would have had fish, but this was the last day and I wanted something other than fish.


    LuLu's Lahaina Surf Club & Grill located near the Safeway store was also very gluten free friendly. Again, no gluten-free menu but they made us some gluten free omelets with potatoes for breakfast. They are not open every day for breakfast.


    The best fish we had was the fresh fish we bought and grilled at our condo.

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    From a person who wants to eat out in Maui, this is not really a very detailed response. Driving from the airport at the first intersection you can go right and very soon there is a new whole Foods. If you continued from the airport to Ka‘anapali as on all maps, you drive right past a natural foods store where I have shopped for my gluten free items for 10 years.

    Cheeseburger in Parasise - do not eat any of their fries, in fact do not eat any fries in Maui - 99% of them seasoning or not have a light flouring on them to keep them crispy and so they do not melt or expire or flop on your plate due to the humidity. Neither Cheeseburger in Paradise, Hard Rock Cafe or Bubba Gumps serve people with celiac disease very well and their knowledge is poor. If you try Bubba Gumps the only thing you can have there are steamed peel and eat shrimp. There are MANY gluten free places on Maui - explore a little more and get away from the chains.

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    From a person who wants to eat out in Maui, this is not really a very detailed response. Driving from the airport at the first intersection you can go right and very soon there is a new whole Foods. If you continued from the airport to Ka‘anapali as on all maps, you drive right past a natural foods store where I have shopped for my gluten free items for 10 years.

    Cheeseburger in Parasise - do not eat any of their fries, in fact do not eat any fries in Maui - 99% of them seasoning or not have a light flouring on them to keep them crispy and so they do not melt or expire or flop on your plate due to the humidity. Neither Cheeseburger in Paradise, Hard Rock Cafe or Bubba Gumps serve people with celiac disease very well and their knowledge is poor. If you try Bubba Gumps the only thing you can have there are steamed peel and eat shrimp. There are MANY gluten free places on Maui - explore a little more and get away from the chains.

    Thank you Lynda for your comment. I would like to reiterate that this was my first time to Maui and that I was also traveling with small children who share an opinion in where we eat. I'm sure readers will be interested in knowing about the Whole Foods. As I stated in the article, I did not have an extended opportunity to explore the island. My vacation was brief, but if I had been there longer, I'd have more time to sample other restaurants serving gluten-free food. The point of this article was to provide travelers with information on my experience and to also give them tools to eat out gluten-free while traveling.

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    Mala in both Lahaina and Wailea has to be one of the best gluten free restaurants I have ever been to anywhere. My husband and I were blown away by the quality of the dishes. Many on the gluten free menu were merely minus the soy sauce (bring your own!!!!) which we miss the flavor of, so we instead asked the server to ask the chef to recommend what he thought would be best. Wow, was that an amazing decision. We ended up with a Thai inspired curry that we still talk about almost a year later. The food can't be fresher and it's amazing. Definitely your nice night out though.

    Also there is a Whole Foods very near the airport, stop there before continuing on (also a Costco if you are a member, it's a good place to get staples reasonably). In Kihei go to Hawaiian Moons Store for more gluten-free selection than even Whole Foods and a great hot bar with many gluten-free options. Maui Tacos is a local chain with fabulous gluten-free options for those who love Mexican, and any nice restaurant can make you fresh fish and veggies that will blow you away. Also try the local Maui beef, it's served in many restaurants and sold at Whole Foods and Longs Drugs. It's all grass fed and so good..... Maui takes a little work (b/c most things are made with soy sauce), but it's so worth it. Call ahead and ask the chef about their accommodations. Also don't forget to go to Flatbread in Paia (on the way to Hana or the North Shore)... great gluten free pizza (call ahead to make sure they have gluten free crusts and prepare to wait a little or call your order in early as all gluten-free pizzas are made separately). Most restaurants on Maui are family style and want your kids to be happy too, they are happy to substitute baked potatoes if fries aren't ok or grilled chicken or steak instead of chicken fingers, etc. Be nice and tip well and they will work hard for you. Your business is their livelihood.

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    There is also an Outback restaurant in Maui, this Australian chain is amazing for celiacs, they have a dedicated gluten free menu, and their dessert "Thunder from down under" is to die for! Chocolate brownie with whipped cream,syrup, nuts and a cherry on top!well worth visiting. I found the Hard Rock Cafe very uninformed and limited.

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    Informative and interesting experience you have shared. Thanks. An addition to the list of destinations where gluten free food is available.

    You missed Penne Pasta in Lahaina. For a small charge, they will make you gluten free pasta, and they know what they're doing.

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    Guest Charmaine Stillwell


    It was a very informative article and I enjoyed hearing about her trip. Food choices are a challenge in every day living but sometimes travel can be almost impossible but improving more each day.

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    Thanks for the useful info. Just FYI to anyone visiting, the Kahului Ale House is NOT GLUTEN FREE friendly, as it is listed on some reviews. It is under new ownership and does not have any gluten free options. The hostess looked at me like I had 2 heads when I asked about their gluten free options.

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    I live on Maui and HIGHLY suggest all celiacs make their 1st stop Mana Foods in Paia. It is close to the airport and blows Whole Foods outtadawatah for gluten-free foods, packaged and prepared!

    As was mentioned above Flatbread makes a good gluten-free pizza, and yes...there is an Outback in Kihei.

    Also Mama's Fish House is very accommodating, and Cafe Mambo in Paia has many options.

    More important is where you stay. You can try www.homeaway.com for house rentals, or Maui Sports Vacations, but a house, condo or apartment is always e best bet for Celiacs because of the obvious. With a house & Mana Foods, you can have a great vacation on Maui...and save money too!

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    Guest Jack Darrington


    Great ideas, thanks. I'm dating a girl with celiac and we're planning a trip to Hawaii so I really needed some direction. Quick question, I've heard that coffee from the tropics is to die for and I really want to try some Hawaii coffee beans. Now I want to be sensitive to my girlfriend's gluten intolerance so I was wondering if coffee had gluten in it or not? Probably a dumb question but I'm new to all this.

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  • About Me

    Melissa Blanco is a freelance writer and blogger who was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2007.  You can visit her website at www.melissablanco.com.

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    Actually, I did need them on the 2012 trip – but ironically that was when I couldn’t have them! We had decided to layover for a few days in Fiji to break up the long flight. I anticipated (correctly) that there would be little gluten-awareness in Fiji, so I was traveling with plentiful supplies. But I was dismayed to find that arriving passengers were required to discard all food items, without exception, at the airport. That made the next five days in Fiji a little challenging. I relied on cooking locally available basic resources that I bought in public markets, such as eggs, vegetables, coconut, fish, meat and yams. It was hard to find food that I was sure would be safe in grocery stores and almost impossible in restaurants.
    Because I am a budget traveler, and because I want good control over what I eat, I do prefer to buy and cook my own food in any case. In New Zealand, food items tend to be clearly labeled, much better than they are in the US. All of the larger supermarkets, such as New World, Pack n’ Save, Woolworth’s (locally known as “Woolli’s”), and Countdown have gluten-free breads of various sorts, as well as rice crackers, sweets, and an array of pre-packaged items such as soups, risotto, and curries that may be labeled gluten-free. However, there are always hidden surprises; for example, it was hard to find hummus that did not indicate the possible presence of wheat in the chickpeas (only Lisa’s Organic hummus was gluten-free). The ubiquitous smaller grocery outlets, such as dairies (the equivalent of convenience stores) might or might not have much in the way of gluten-free foods. Traveling by bicycle in more remote areas, such as heading towards East Cape from Opotiki, stores were sometimes far apart and minimally stocked. I occasionally found myself with nothing to eat for lunch but tinned salmon or sardines. Anyone traveling in a car could easily avoid such a situation, though.
    As might be expected, health food and organic food stores typically have a selection of gluten-free food items including bread, snacks, baked goods, pasta and alternative grains. Sometimes they carry gluten-free meat pies and other entrees in the freezer case. They tend to have easily identifiable names, such as Homestead Health, Bin Inn Wholefoods, Commonsense Organics (which carries, among others, Breadman brand fresh baked breads), etc. Always use your own commonsense, though. I did see occasional red flags, such as purportedly gluten-free baked goods unwrapped and sitting in a display case next to other goods baked with wheat flour. In those situations, I politely say that I would like to buy certain items but cannot do so if there’s a chance of gluten contamination. Also, I tell them that I worry that if this is an issue in one part of the store, I can’t be sure about other items they carry. They usually listen carefully to requests that might improve their sales.
    Having stocked upon gluten-free items at a shop in Auckland before a long train trip on the Tranz Scenic to Wellington, I discovered that I would have done fine without that precaution. The canteen on the train featured a line of prepackaged meals under the Wishbone label, all of which were very visibly marked for dietary restrictions including dairy free, gluten free, no meat, low fat, and low glycemic index. I enjoyed the "butter chicken"(tandoori spiced chicken with rice and sliced almonds) for lunch and saved my gluten-free groceries for dinner. On the other hand, when traveling by bus over long distances, I found it necessary to carry my own food. Meal stops on the bus routes were rarely more than ½ hour, and generally restricted one’s choice to a single café or cafeteria-style restaurant that did not have much for the gluten-free traveler.
    We stayed mostly in "backpackers," hostels that have kitchen facilities. They are found everywhere. One tip is to pick backpackers that have high ratings in the BBH New Zealand backpackers network guide. These will be the cleanest and best-organized places. The more highly rated hostels will cost more (it’s okay – they are worth more), but you will save a bit with a BBH membership. Backpacker accommodations range from dormitory-like arrangements to private rooms with bath. They may be large and full of boisterous young people, or small and quiet. With small places, you may have the kitchen almost completely to yourself. In the communal kitchen and eating area there will be a varying selection of cookware, utensils, and dishware. We carry camping gear including a thin plastic cutting board, a nesting pot set, lightweight cups, bowls and utensils, and plastic storage containers labeled with our name. I often used our own cooking pots and plates in backpacker hostels since hostel guests do not always do the best job of cleaning up their dishes. If I did use communal pans or utensils, I washed them thoroughly beforehand, using something other than a possibly contaminated communal sponge or dishrag. It is a good idea to cook and eat outside of the most crowded mealtimes, particularly at large, popular hostels. Otherwise, the atmosphere of “combat cooking” may defeat your efforts to keep gluten off surfaces and people may assume that your newly washed pot is there for them to use.  But it is wonderfully convenient to be able to cook your own food and refrigerate your groceries and leftovers. You need to bag your food, clearly label it with name and date, and make sure that it is sufficiently protected to prevent contamination from other people’s food in a stuffed refrigerator.
    A lot of restaurants and cafés throughout New Zealand offer gluten-free menus or menu options. While you need to be prepared for this not to be true in the more remote areas, even there you will often have pleasant surprises. I do recommend that you advise the waitperson that you are celiac.  If they look at you blankly, say that this requires that you be very strictly gluten-free. If they still look blank, go somewhere else to eat. In a properly gluten-free-conscious place, the staff will confirm with the chef that your menu choice is safe and note the need for special care on your order. I had one worrisome experience after eating at an Indonesian restaurant in Napier. The Dutch owner seemed very knowledgeable about celiac and told me exactly what I could have, including sauces. Afterwards, as we were paying for the meal, I saw that some of the bottled sauces were for sale. I read the label on one and it clearly contained wheat. The owner was mortified and assured me that these were from older stock and that the sauces I was actually served were gluten-free. Life as a celiac is never risk-free – but since I had no reaction later, I can hope he was right.
    The bottom line is that New Zealand really is a great destination for the gluten-free traveler.

    Vanessa Oakley
    Gluten-Free Camping
    Celiac.com 08/06/2013 - I recently went camping with a good friend of mine and her boyfriend. This was a last minute trip that I knew I was kind of going solo. I have never been camping without a partner or at least a tent mate. So this was the first time I only had to think of me. How cool is that?!
    I start every out of town adventures the same way—I make a trip calendar to plan out my clothes, meals and supplies (If I could only show you guys all the lists I make!).  I find that when I'm camping there is a level of community in the supplies and food department. I forgot forks, no worries buddy I brought extra. Try this, I made it myself or I brought too many hot dogs, eat them. This can be dangerous for a celiac. No one wants to be the guy that has to read everything in sight before they touch it. Or maybe you do, that's cool too—be yourself. I have always subscribed to the theory that if I don't know what it is or what's in it, I simply say "no thank you," even if it kills me to say no, and makes me think about how yummy that thing could have been.
    The day before I went camping I took my list and headed to the grocery store. When I got home and packed I was pretty happy with my haul. I know that I have a lot—more than enough to feed myself for the trip, including snacks. I am self-sufficient…as long as they have some sanitizer and some biodegradable soap for dishes. But I had everything else I needed...I hoped.
    To my delight and surprise my lovely friend and her lovely boyfriend had over-packed in the food department with stuff that happened to be gluten-free. I know that some things she would have packed with me in mind (thank you Lindsay!), but other things were as much a surprise to her as they were to me. Between the both of us we all ate like kings that weekend!
    It is a bit difficult to write about gluten-free trials and tribulations when everything works out. Where there is no worry about cross-contamination or drunken mix-ups. I was the only person to bring out "bread." I found some hotdog buns that looked promising. They got toasted over the fire in a wire basket thing and were so good!
    There are, of course, some things to look out for when you are camping. Be aware of a stove top or grill if you have things like that at the site. You never know what someone else cooked on that, even if it's just meat it may have been seasoned with things that contain gluten. Also, don't mix up your hotdog stick with someone else, unless everyone also has gluten-free dogs. Don't borrow shampoo or face wash. There are so many things that can have gluten in them!
    I definitely learned some stuff about myself on this trip. I learned that I am lucky enough to have surrounded myself with good caring, thoughtful people.  I love camping and I never knew how easy celiac disease would eventually become for me. Did I mention that I am also terrified of spiders!

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    Thank you GFinDC. Question. When you say, "quick rinse", can you define what is safe for us to use when washing our fruits and veggies? I know that might sound like something I should know but I am seriously taking no chances (at least not on purpose). I've been buying organic produce because I was told I needed to. Do you find that to be true or do I need to find a new nutritionist? 😉
    Hi Wade, You areright, there are lots of little gotchas out there in the gluten-filled world.  That's why it is easier/safer to stick with whole foods at the beginning of the gluten-free diet.  The list of ingredients on an apple or an orange or a steak is usually real short.  So you can get out of the grocery store quicker by eating whole foods like those.  Plain frozen veggies or canned are usually safe too.  And fresh produce as long as you give it a quick rinse.
    Why....why would your doctor not follow the standard of care for testing celiac disease?  I think you need to think about  finding another doctor.  If you are in the US, you can “walk” into a lab and order the test and pay cash: https://labtestsonline.org/tests/celiac-disease-antibody-tests No, your result does not significantly lower your odds of getting a celiac disease diagnosis.  She ordered the LEAST commonly used test, especially since she only ordered that one alone.  I think she thinks you do not have celiac disease, but that you may have a gluten sensitivity.  But that is wrong!  There is no test for gluten sensitivity.  http://www.cureceliacdisease.org/screening/ https://www.mayocliniclabs.com/it-mmfiles/Celiac_Disease_Diagnostic_Testing_Algorithm.pdf https://celiac.org/about-celiac-disease/screening-and-diagnosis/screening/ https://www.verywellhealth.com/celiac-disease-blood-tests-562694 https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diagnostic-tests/celiac-disease-health-care-professionals I am not a doctor though.  Perhaps, you can ask her why she did not order the complete panel or at least the screening tests most often ordered for celiac disease. Know that some celiacs are asymptomatic (no symptoms) Some just have one symptom.  Some have classic symptoms.  I presented with only anemia and no GI symptoms with only a positive on the DGP IgA.    I hope this helps.