Posted in Life Lessons, Teacher Life

"…To Be in Love with Everything…"

I should warn you in advance: this is going to be a long one…but I have an awful lot to say. Consider yourself warned 🙂

As many of you know, my full-time job is teaching. This year, I get to spend 80% of my day teaching Paschal Mystery so my days are filled with Scripture readings, deep questions about life after death, various artistic interpretations of Jesus’ Ascension into heaven, and other activities of the sort. The other 20% of my day, however, is devoted to something very different: 11th and 12th grade Economics. Yes, my dual degrees in Liberal Arts and Business finally make sense… 7 years after I darted between ceremonies performing a quick change of hoods during Villanova Commencement weekend, it finally all makes sense. 20% of my day is devoted to exploring opportunity cost, calculating marginal utility, charting production possibility curves, etc. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love every minute of it.

I always knew there was a reason I wanted both…
I just wasn’t sure what it was. 

One unique opportunity I have as both the Theology and Economics teacher is that I get to encourage the girls to think about the future in a more comprehensive way. Yes, employment matters. Dream big. Write those business plans for your future B&B or cake pop company, and go for it. If your dream is to make partner in “the Big 4” or to be CEO of a Fortune 500 company, make it happen. These are not at all bad dreams; just remember that ultimately your goal is heaven…so as long as you don’t have to do anything along the path toward your dream to knock that goal offtrack, well then, keep on running!

As I prepped for this new semester, I found an essay I wanted my students to read. Sometime in recent months, I had come across a speech entitled  The Opposite of Loneliness, which I read and loved. Within it, I had clicked my way to find an article entitled Even Artichokes Have Doubts. It’s perfect. It has everything I wanted to say to these girls. It talks about how when you survey most freshmen students on a college campus about what they hope to do when that life after college inevitably arrives, very few will offer answers such as financial analyst, broker, or consultant. (Notice: I said few, not zero. I had several classmates who did in fact arrive oncampus with such aspirations in August 2004. Like I said, if that’s your dream, go for it!). Yet, by senior year, nearly 25% of grads end up in such positions. Why? Because it’s easy; because it’s practical; because it makes money and fits the standard American definition of success. I shudder to think of the movies we’ll never see, the books which will remain unwritten, the restaurants which will remain elusive dreams, simply because it’s too impractical to reach for a dream. However, I digress.

The point is I’ve been on an essay kick recently, ever since a friend gave me a collection of essays for Christmas this year. Additionally, I recently learned how to borrow ebooks from the library onto my school iPad, since I have yet to purchase an e-reader. Two weeks ago I borrowed the book of essays written by the dazzling young author who penned the essays mentioned above. For 2 weeks that book has been sitting in my digital library until today when I happened to have a 20-minute window of time between teaching the high schoolers and teaching my night class (remember them, my construction men??). I swiped my way to an essay, started to read, and I was literally stopped in my tracks. I actually had to take a seat, recover my breath, and even reach for a tissue as I read, all the while thinking, “These words could be coming out of my mouth”. In fact, I actually said the last line of the essay word-for-word just the other night when talking to a friend. Before you go any further, please just click and read: Against the Grain

It’s perfect. She understands it all: the separate colander; the supposed trendiness of the lifestyle we certainly didn’t choose, even the tears of concern shed over a theoretical future child who may or may not ever exist…I have found my kindred spirit. I want to pick up the phone and call her to say thank you for making me feel less alone. I want to take a train to New York and visit her office and go out for a gluten-free lunch where we both grill the waiter before ordering a meal. I want to collaborate with her on a book about celiac which will be lighthearted and yet so profoundly honest that we will reach through the haze of confusion which seems to surround our condition and touch people’s hearts. However, I can do none of those things. Marina Keegan, the dazzling author who penned these heartwrenchingly honest and beautiful pieces of prose, died in a car accident in 2012, just days after her graduation from Yale. I knew this about her before I stumbled across this essay today, and it added to the emotional experience of reading it.

Go to Amazon. It’s well worth a read

Now, I want to stop and acknowledge what many of you are probably thinking. Yes, I know this seems cruelly similar to the heartwrenching experience of the Nationwide commercial during Sunday’s Super Bowl; no, that was not my intention. However, today was the second time in under a week when I’ve found myself stricken with grief over the loss of someone I never even knew. Today as I read Marina’s essays, and last week as I watched friends mourn the loss of someone taken far too soon, and far too suddenly, something occurred to me. We try to control so many things. Sometimes it’s by choice, other times it’s by necessity. Particularly in the world of food allergies and/or autoimmune conditions, it feels like we have to control everything and yet other times it feels like despite our best efforts, our body, our immune system, or our life are still spiralling out of control. The reality is that we can only control so much. No one likes to talk about it, and certainly no one wants to admit it…because it’s just too terrifying.

So what can we do about to make that reality less terrifying? That I don’t know. What I do know is that we can control certain aspects of our lives. We can wash dishes with separate sponges and use brand-new toasters. We can scrutinize every label, annoy every chef we encounter, and fill up our phones’ “favorites” list with manufacturers’ hotlines. We can pack ice cream cones, plant appropriate Halloween candy when need be, and swear ourselves to nothing but rice when everything else seems treacherous. We can do everything in our power to ensure that every precious second is beautiful, healthy, and full of life. And we should. But in the end, the one thing which should drive all of our decisions, actions, plans, and dreams is very simple: love. Do what you love, spend time with the people you love, and above all, be the person you love.

Tonight, I toast Marina with an ice-cold Angry Orchard and a Katie-safe chocolate-covered cherry. I say a prayer of thanksgiving for her time here among us, and I offer several others for her parents, siblings, and the dutiful gluten-conscious boyfriend who loved her so deeply. I pray in thanksgiving for the life of a man I never knew who left this world last week, and for the wife and unborn daughter who are left to carry on his legacy. And lastly, I pray for each and every one of you. May you follow your heart, learn to relinquish control, and most of all, may you live everyday to the fullest and as Marina said, “be in love with everything…because everything is so beautiful and so short”.

Courtesy of pinterest
Posted in Life Lessons, Newly-Diagnosed, Uncategorized

Dear Body, Today I Choose Love…

I know I left you on not the highest of notes last time I wrote. However, as promised, my anger only lasted a day and then I decided to pick myself up, dust myself off, and move on. As they say, things always seem darkest before the dawn, right? Come Wednesday morning, I found light. My lingering chest congestion symptoms had faded away and for the first time in a week, my head seemed clear and I no longer viewed the world through a hazy veil. I energetically taught my classes and enjoyed each one, rather than viewing each one as a mile on the marathon of my day as I had the week before, when exhaustion had won over. And then this weekend arrived and I realized just how beautiful life is when you and your body are on the same team, rather than opposing forces.
Two Fridays ago, I was sitting in the doctor’s office yet again. This past Friday, I was sitting in the late afternoon sun cheering on some of my students at their field hockey game. Two Saturdays ago, I slept most of the morning away and then assumed the position of a lifeless blob on the couch for the remainder of the day. This past Saturday, I was at a cider mill before 9 AM enjoying an apple cider slushie (and purchasing apple cider donuts to share with friends whose immune systems have embraced gluten as a gift rather than an enemy). Two Saturdays ago, I had to cancel a trip to visit friends from grad school. This past Saturday, I got to (very briefly) visit with Baltimore friends before heading up 95 to Philadelphia. I was able to visit with friends from grad school and college, PLUS meet some brand new friends.

Cider Festival! And ND/ACE 15 reunion 🙂

Two Saturdays ago, the extent of my cultural entertainment was episodes of Gilmore Girls on my laptop since I didn’t even have the energy to get up and navigate the TV. This past Saturday, I enjoyed an afternoon Cider Festival (trust me, a post on that is forthcoming too!) and then joined hundreds of Philly residents on the lawn outside Independence Hall for a viewing of “The Barber of Seville”….quite an experience I must say.

Opera on the Mall! And Villanova reunion 🙂
Two Sundays ago, I managed to become somewhat mobile again and ventured outdoors onto my patio. This past Sunday, I was out the door before 9 AM for a visit to my favorite Philly coffee shop. Two Sundays ago, I dragged myself to morning mass at the hospital chapel, figuring the crowds of my parish, and the inevitable hugs and conversations with people I know there, would prove too much exertion. This Sunday, I was able to return to the church in Philly where I had one of my favorite retreats (and breakfast with Fr. James Martin!) for mass.

What better way to start a Sunday??

Two Sundays ago, I ate soup and lots of it. This past Sunday, I got to visit one of my happy places: Sweet Freedom. And now they’ve opened a branch down the road from my alma mater, Villanova. SO I got to see that too!!

A Katie-safe cupcake AND a pumpkin spice latte I didn’t have to make!!
I LOVE Sweet Freedom!

All in all, it was an amazing weekend filled with laughter, joy, love, and delicious treats. It was pretty much the polar opposite of last weekend. And as I sat in my living room last night pondering all these things, I really did feel love and gratitude for my body and its poor, confused immune system. Yes, it can certainly be a pain and make me angry sometimes when plans get ruined. However, by simply eliminating the foods that seem to confuse it, my body does a pretty fantastic job of getting itself back together. And for that, I am truly grateful…and utterly amazed.

So yes, I’ve lost oats. And that still makes me sad when I realize it’s in something else I’ve been eating. However, when I look at all that I gained in just one weekend by giving up oats (well, and gluten, dairy, soy, and corn (sort of)), I’d say it’s a worthwhile sacrifice. There’s still an accountant deep down inside of me and the tradeoff seems quite clear here.

So what I’m saying is some days you’re going to be angry. And that’s OK. Let yourself be angry. Let yourself be sad. Let yourself cry or wallow or hibernate away from people for a day or two. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. And some days you’re going to be happy, amazed, and gratified. And you have to appreciate those days. Let yourself feel pure joy. Let happiness consume you. Let yourself laugh and hug and talk to one of your best friends until 12:30 in the morning when you know both of you should probably have gone to sleep hours earlier. Let yourself appreciate all the love that surrounds you, regardless of how your body decides to lash out sometimes.
So in conclusion, today I am choosing love. AND to top it all off: guess what today is?? NATIONAL COFFEE DAY!!!!! That’s right. It’s real. Granted, I am well aware that this is just another construct of corporate America, a clever marketing ploy to draw countless bargain-loving customers who wouldn’t typically cross the threshold of a Dunkin Donuts on a Monday morning…hoping of course that the sight and scent of donuts will overwhelm these patrons and motivate them to spend some money anyway. Yes, I know how these things work. But what I also know is that I love both coffee and bargains; thus anything which allows me to combine the 2, especially on a Monday morning after a weekend away is golden in my book.

That’s right…it’s here!!

 Now I’ve been promising an informational post regarding coffee and other coffee-based beverages…and I do promise one of those is coming. Until then, go get your free coffee, go have a great Monday, and today, or one of these days if today isn’t the one for you, let yourself choose love; because there is so much beauty to appreciate in this life.

Posted in Life Lessons, Teacher Life

Dear Body, Today I Choose Anger…

I know, that doesn’t sound like the kind of introduction you’re used to finding when you open this blog.  To be honest, I started this post from the couch during my most recent bout with illness. I never fully intended to post it, I think it was meant to be more of a cathartic exercise; however, as I wrote, I couldn’t help but think that perhaps these thoughts are in fact worth sharing. I mean, yes, the purpose of this blog is to inform readers about food intolerances and to encourage you through my own journey that life can and will be OK again, even when you’re convinced it never will. However, I think sometimes I go too far and make it seem like my journey is now all sunshine, rainbows, and delicious treats. Believe it or not, there are potholes on the journey too. And though I don’t often share those, I think this time it’s worth sharing…if for no other reason than to to remind everyone that no life is perfect, that dark days are inevitable, and you don’t have to pretend they don’t exist. We’re only human after all.

So, as I mentioned above, today I’m choosing anger. Now that is a strange sentence for many reasons. First of all, because anger is an emotion with which I am not well acquainted.  In fact, I once considered it a point of pride that I so rarely (i.e. never) experienced this particular emotion. However, it was during a rather insightful conversation with one of my ACE “brothers” when we were living in DC when I came to a startling conclusion. I realized that perhaps anger is an important sentiment; because if you never experience anger, then it means there is nothing in your life which you care so deeply about that it can ignite a passionate response . It suddenly troubled me that I rarely, if ever, allowed myself to feel anger. And from that day forward, I have embraced anger as a gift; granted, it’s how you channel this anger into action that defines whether it’s a catalyst for change or simply a vice. In fact, I whipped out my trusty Catechism this afternoon (well, actually it was already out for a lesson plan: Religion teacher problems)  and found paragraph 1767 which definitively states that passions in and of themselves are neither good nor evil but must be governed by reason.  (Side note: the Vatican website has a topical index of the Catechism!! In my Religion teacher world, this is simply amazing.) Second, it may seem strange to define anger as a choice…but that’s exactly what I think it is. (And clearly the Catechism seems to agree) You can feel emotions coming on, but only you can choose what is worth letting go and what is worth holding onto in your own life. So, again, yes, today I am choosing anger.

You know you’re a Religion teacher when…

Why am I choosing anger, you ask? Great question. My body and I are not on good terms.  My immune system in particular. I have just missed out on the second planned trip to visit ACE friends in the Midwest since July. Once it was a stomach bug, today it’s a respiratory infection. In just the 4 weeks since school started, my body has already waved the white flag.  The illnesses ravaging the girls since day 1 have proven too much for my poor, confused immune system. It’s been a long week of coughing, throat scratching, and the kind of exhaustion I never dreamed possible. I somehow made it through back to school night last week with a smile on my face and then crawled home into my bed with an aching chest, still dressed in my school attire. Friday morning it was off to the doctor and a brief pneumonia scare…before it was determined that my lungs seemed OK and I was given a prescription which said “rest, fluids, and a boring weekend” AKA you’re not getting on a plane to Michigan in the morning.

So here I’ve sat. The couch and I have become fast friends. I’ve slept more than I thought possible and downed more fluids and Umcka cold syrup than seems healthy. And I’ve been a little angry. Angry that an autoimmune condition, despite my fervent efforts to convince myself and everyone around me otherwise, does make life more difficult sometimes. It means I can’t fight germs the way other people can. It means when I am fighting said germs, my body freaks out at foods and triggers that it normally wouldn’t. And to top it all off, I received some bad news.  I’ve been feeling gradually worse over the past few weeks but I attributed everything to back to schools tiredness, September/new school stress, every other reason under the sun to explain why I was feeling sub-par. I had a few fleeting moments where I wondered aloud if something was up. I even had the nerve to verbalize a deeply-rooted fear that for the longest time I was afraid to say out loud: that it could be coffee.  I noticed it was often mid-morning, about two hours after breakfast, that I was feeling my worst. Nothing like when I eat one of the other triggers, but still bad enough to take notice. Well, the good news: it isn’t coffee. The bad news: it’s oats.

I know, I know… many of you with celiac or gluten issues are not feeling very bad for me right now. You’re thinking: “no kidding, Katie. Welcome to my world”. That’s right..many people with gluten allergies cannot handle oats, even the ones certified as gluten free. However, until recently, I was one of the lucky ones. (If I can be described as lucky that is haha). Well, those days are no more. For some unknown reason, my body has decided that now is the time to start attacking avenin, AKA the protein in oats that is remarkably similar to gluten. And the cereal I’ve been eating for weeks? One of the main ingredients is oat flour. So this means in some sense, I’m responsible for this latest bout of illness because I’ve been eating oats and thus rendering my immune system incapable of fighting off this recent germ. Or perhaps it’s the germ that invaded first, thus making my immune system attack something new. It’s the beauty of an autoimmune condition: you just never know. It’s like the ultimate chicken or the egg scenario.

Now before you get too concerned, don’t worry. Today I chose anger. But tomorrow I’ll be back onboard the acceptance train. I’ll fill your newsfeed with posts of how this unforeseen event led me to discover my new favorite winter breakfast replacement (Quinoa “Rice and Shine”- yes, that’s a real thing I discovered today) or how lucky I am to have people in my life who care about me enough to let me rant from 700 miles away on the phone since I can’t be sitting with them or who will drive an hour just to bring me Katie-safe food, Mexican (READ: NO CORN SYRUP!!) Coca-Cola, and keep me company when I’m resigned to the couch. Yes, those are all topics for another day. When I wake up tomorrow, I will transform this anger into positive passion. I’ll find new recipes that are safe, I’ll commit myself even more to making the world a better place for my food-allergy-ridden friends, and I’ll drive you crazy with my all-too-upbeat posts about rainbows and sunshine.

Where do you think I went after school/my chat with the doctor today?
If your answer was Mom’s Organic Market, you know me quite well 🙂

For today, though, I will let myself be angry. And every once in awhile, you should too. And you may even let yourself shed a tear or two. I mean, if Pope John Paul II recommended it, it must be sound advice, right??

Courtesy of:

Posted in Life Lessons

I CAN Have My Cupcake and Eat It Too!

That’s right…today is another red-letter day in my life. Before we get to why, let’s backtrack. When last I left you, I was off on phase 1 of my summer adventures. I traveled as far north as the Poconos and as far south as Alabama. I efficiently packed weeks of Katie-safe meals/snacks to sustain me for the journey and I came to a remarkable realization:  it really isn’t that hard anymore! I thought back to my camp experience last year (which you may remember came about 2 weeks after my corn diagnosis) and I laughed to myself thinking about just how far I’ve come in a year. Granted I also think it may have something to do with the fact that the world has also evolved in allergy-friendliness. I mean the Walmart in Alabama had a gluten-free section: I was literally rendered speechless. Then the restaurant I went to with my mom and sister in the Poconos had both gluten-free and vegan menus. Now I am by no means trying to sound elitist here…but seriously if it’s reached the Poconos and rural Alabama you know that’s something! Kudos, world, on becoming more and more safe for people like me 🙂

Now I know you’re probably sitting there thinking, “Of course, Katie, you had the most perfect magical trip and you were SO happy every minute of every day. That’s just not real.” And to that I’d say, yes, you are absolutely correct. I’ll be the first to admit that amongst the countless amazing moments, I of course had my moments of weakness (i.e. jealousy) too. After all, I’m only human. I would be lying if I told you that the question “Why me?” didn’t cross my mind a few times. There was a morning when I watched dozens of people file through the various food lines and devour French toast sticks  and then Uncrustables later in the day and I couldn’t help but think “How is it that I’m 1 of only 2 people at this entire camp who had to pack their own food to survive the week??”. And as I watched an entire gymnasium full of people process up to Communion during mass not 1, not 2, but 3 different times, I couldn’t help but think “How is it that every other person can just walk up to receive the Eucharist without a second thought about its effect on their digestive tract/immune system and yet I’m the one who had to remember to add 3 low-gluten hosts to my camp packing list??” And as I sat watching the other wedding guests devour multiple helpings of the most delicious-smelling BBQ, macaroni&cheese, peach cobbler, and of course, wedding cake…well, my plate of fruit and carefully-chosen Katie-safe snack foods just seemed so lonely. Of course don’t think these fleeting moments were enough to dampen the overarching joy of these weeks…I just want to be honest and let you know that you’re not alone if you have some “Why me??” moments of your own.

However, then something remarkable happened yesterday which made me stop and reevaluate the “Why me” scenarios of the past few weeks. I spent yesterday afternoon at Johns Hopkins (the hospital not the school). A former co-teacher of mine has been a patient there for a few weeks now and due to my US travel adventures I haven’t had a chance to pay her a visit. For reasons I cannot understand she is on the one floor in the Children’s Hospital wing that is not actually for children…but in order to reach her, I passed countless children who were patients. Since yesterday was a beautiful one here in Baltimore, many of the kids were given an opportunity to travel outside to a courtyard with their families. There were several adorable kids decked out in face masks, oversized medical booties and grins that even those giant protective masks couldn’t hide as they made their way outside to the courtyard. As I walked out of the hospital after my visit into the glorious summer sun, I was struck by a simlar thought: “Why me?? Why do I get to walk out of this hospital and go enjoy the rest of this beautiful day while these young children and their families are stuck inside this sterile world day in and day out?”

As I sat in mass an hour later I found myself reflecting on “Why Me??” moments in a whole new light. Instead of the ones mentioned above regarding my trip, I found myself pondering other moments. How did I get to be one of only 10 people to lead a USA-themed conga line/dance party with senior citizens in Magnolia, Delaware? How did I get to travel to a small town in Alabama and witness two good friends declare their love as the Saint in the Bow Tie married the Saint in Running Shoes (seriously she’s up to 10 marathons under her belt. 10! She’s incredible!) How was I the one who got to share both laughter and dances under an Alabama sunset with the ACE boys who have become like my brothers?? How did I get to spend a fun-filled 4th of July with family and then 5th of July with friends who have become family under beautiful fireworks…when just 3 years ago I was one of those patients spending the 4th in the hospital with my mom and sister as company?

ACE love 🙂

 Yes, I think it’s human nature to have “Why me??” moments…and to be honest I think we’re all entitled to them once in awhile. However I also think our lives are filled with amazing “Why me?” moments that often go unnoticed or at least uncelebrated amidst the craziness of life. So my message today is two-fold: 1) If you find yourself having a bitter “Why me?” moment, whether it’s food-related or not, know that you’re not alone and it’s normal BUT 2) don’t get so focused on those moments that you fail to appreciate the amazing “Why me??” moments which no doubt populate your life too!! So in light of these reflections, which were only further reinforced by my July calendar page, life with all its trials and tribulations, high and lows, roses and thorns etc. is truly worth celebrating.

That Mary Engelbreit knows what she’s doing 🙂

 So what did I do tonight?? I finally made one of the treats I’ve been most missing for over a year now: a vanilla “funfetti” cupcake. I’d like to thank Pinterest, the freedom of summer vacation, Mom’s Organic Market, and my lovely students for their generous end-of-year gift card which enabled me to stock up on the necessary supplies. Now don’t get too excited: I’m not posting the recipe quite yet because I need to tweak it a little and make the texture a little more cupcake-y and a little less muffin-y…but stay tuned and I promise it’s coming.

The beautiful finished product: pre-frosting…
…and post-frosting 🙂

In the meantime I’ll be savoring every remaining bite of this little delicacy with a smile plastered on my face. And I’ll be looking out for those beautiful “Why me?” moments which remind me just how truly unique and blessed I am.

…like gluten, dairy, soy, and corn 😉
courtesy of:
Posted in Bread/Muffins, Life Lessons, Teacher Life, Uncategorized

"The Times, They Are A-Changin…"

(Full disclosure: I recently found Season 1 of American Dreams during a visit to the local Goodwill. I’ve rediscovered my obsession and thus I have songs from the 60s as the soundtrack of my life right now. Hence the nod to Bob Dylan in this title.) 

Change. It seems to be a word that keeps popping up in my life lately. I suppose that’s inevitable in teaching where the end of an academic year is always accompanied by an array of changes…but it’s been more than that too. In the past week, not 1, not 2, but 3 of my favorite priests have offered reflections on the subject. (Yes, go ahead, I know you’re all thinking it: Of course, Katie, you would have a list of favorite priests…it’s fine, I own it :-)) Our associate pastor closed out the school year with a great homily (complete with the visual aids the kids have come to LOVE when he speaks) on how change is good, even though many of us don’t really like it. Then Fr. Jim Martin posted a reflection a few days later on change; he commented on how change is perhaps the hardest thing in the world and that the bravest are those who are willing to change…and how God works through change if only we allow such conversion to take place. Finally, the fabulous chaplain of the ACE program tweeted a message yesterday (that’s right, he’s on Twitter :-)) about change. Granted his message was motivated by the fact that Notre Dame “went Google” yesterday but he offered a reflection on the fact that change doesn’t have to be scary if we aren’t afraid to ask for help. Yes, change is certainly one of those inevitable aspects of life; sometimes it’s good, sometimes not so much, but regardless it’s a reality that keeps us moving forward and makes us who we are.

Yesterday marked 1 year since my life changed in a drastic way. As my doctor so eloquently stated, yesterday was my 1-year “corn”-iversary. (And before you get too excited about being the first one to make a pun about how “corn”-y that is, sorry, the Charismatic Mass Coordinator already beat you to it!) I sat in the waiting room at 7 AM yesterday morning for my 1-year follow-up thinking about just how much life has changed in a year. Some of the changes are great (i.e. I was sitting in a waiting room feeling awake, alert, and alive…not adjectives I could have used to describe my visit a year ago), some not so much (i.e. some days I still miss popcorn and tortilla chips so much that it hurts…sounds crazy, but it’s true). A year ago today I was cleaning out my cabinets and boxing up package after package of no-longer-safe foods; I was discarding yet another set of pots and pans in favor of brand-new “contaminant-free” ones; I was beginning to lose heart and thus I sat down on my front porch with a cup of iced coffee and a word document…and thus this blog began. In the year since, change and I have been frequent friends. I adapted to my new lifestyle, I moved to a new apartment for the 4th time in 4 years, I moved to a new classroom for the 4th time in 4 years, I moved to a new grade level for the 4th time in 4 years…as you can see, change and I are well-acquainted. I can once again eat trace amount of corn: i.e. I don’t need special toothpaste and if cornstarch is a minor ingredient, I’m safe…woohoo!! Sadly they tell me such a thing will never happen with gluten or casein; I say a girl can dream. But just as the three wise priests above articulated: it hasn’t been a easy year. However, I truly do believe I’m better for it. I am happier, healthier, stronger, a bit wiser, much more well-versed in food additives and ingredients…and of course I have you lovely friends who keep coming back to read my blog. It still boggles my mind when I get emails and messages from some of you. So thank you.

Now once again, times are about to change. Last week marked not only the last day of the school year but also my last day at the school I’ve called home for the past 4 years. Yes, since the day I arrived in Baltimore, my home address has changed four times and I’ve gradually added food group after food group to the contraband list and yet one thing remained the same: every morning at around 7 AM, my car traveled to the same destination. I was greeted by the same smiling faces and supportive hugs that carried me through what otherwise would have been an impossibly challenging 4 years. And yet on Friday (well, really Monday) I packed everything from my classroom into Little Blue and handed in my keys.

Saying farewell to my home away from home…

Yes, this August I’m off on a new adventure. I’m moving to a school just a few miles down the road where I’ll teach slightly older students (i,e. 9th and 10th graders) and for the first time in my teaching career, math will not be one of my subjects. I’ll be teaching in the Theology department and working as an assistant Campus Minister planning retreats, masses, service projects, etc. I’m very excited about this change…but as I told the kids as they handed me heartbreaking notes begging me to reconsider, it’s also tempered by some sadness and of course, a little anxiety. As I told them, there comes a time when you know without a doubt that God is calling you to something…and even when it’s a little scary, you have to trust that God wouldn’t be leading you astray and that in the end, whether it’s a week, a month, or a year later, you’ll see how God was at work in your life during that period of change. I told them the story of how that fear of change almost prevented me from even coming to this same school which I’ve called home for the past 4 years. Back in the spring of 2010, the thought of teaching my model lessson to 7th graders and not the 2nd graders I had left behind that morning in DC induced enough fear that I turned around not once, but twice, and walked back to my car before finally mustering the courage to go ring the doorbell for my interview. Talk about the opportunities I would have missed if I had let fear of change win that day!

Picked up my textbooks for next year…just a little light summer reading 🙂

So, as I sit here a year after one of the larger changes in my life and on the brink of yet another one, I can say with certainty that I agree wholeheartedly with the comments of my 3 favorite priests above. Change is hard; change can be scary; but change is also the only way to grow and to discover who you are and who you’re meant to be. So whatever change you might be facing today, embrace it …even if that’s difficult to do. Clean out your cabinets of the food that’s making you sick; accept a job that intimidates you; pack up your car and move somewhere new; end that relationship you know should have ended awhile ago; pick up the phone and make the call you’ve been afraid to make…whatever it is, take a moment today to appreciate change.

Courtesy of

And since I firmly believe that sweet treats and baked goods can cushion the blow of challenges or hardship, this entry would be incomplete without a recipe. I know just what you need today: a cupcake. That’s right, they’re not a thing of the past…though I can guarantee if you told me that a year ago today, I never would have believed you.  I adapted this from a recipe found over on another blog. They’re deliciously satisfying…though admittedly a bit more challenging than the Duncan Hines mix would be 🙂

“Embracing Change Can Be Hard” Chocolate Cupcakes
2 bananas (freezing them first works best)
1/2 cup dark cocoa powder
2 Tbsp. coconut flour
2 Tbsp. arrowroot starch
2 Tbsp. coconut sugar (or some other sweetener)
1/2 Tbsp. flaxseed
2 Tbsp. grapeseed oil
 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
2/3 tsp. baking soda
1/3 tsp. cream of tartar
1/4 tsp. white vinegar
2 Tbsp. maple syrup
1 Tbsp. coconut milk
a dash of salt
water (until desired consistency)

1. Mix all the ingredients together. I had them all in a bowl and then ended up using my Magic Bullet since the frozen bananas posed a challenge.
2. Keep adding water in small spoonfuls until your batter has a cupcake-batter consistency. I would also recommend tasting it after it reaches the desired consistency to make sure it’s still sweet enough!
3. Bake at 350 for about 25 minutes…but keep checking with a toothpick since you’re oven may be faster!

1/2 Tbsp. coconut oil
1/2 Tbsp. olive oil (or grapeseed)
1 Tbsp. coconut sugar
1 Tbsp. maple syrup
2/3 tsp. cream of tartar
1/3 tsp. baking soda
5 Tbsp. coconut milk
1/3 tsp. vanilla

1. Melt the coconut oil and olive oil on the stovetop. Remove when melted and pour into a bowl.
2) Add the coconut sugar, maple syrup, cream of tartar, and baking soda and mix until dissolved.
3) Stir in the vanilla and coconut milk until dissolved into the mixture as well.
4) Chill the mixture for 20-30 minutes before trying to frost the cupcakes
Yes, the only picture I have is when I made them for the HIMYM finale.
So of course I added chips to make them my “Suit Up” cupcakes…
Posted in Celiac "Fun" Facts, Gluten-Free/Dairy-Free Life, Life Lessons, Newly-Diagnosed

10 Things I Wish People Knew About Life Without Gluten

A few hours ago, we said good-bye to April and hello to May, which is important for a variety of reasons. First, it means the relentless rain should cease and bring us those promised “May flowers”…and in light of just how many April “showers” we’ve had, it better be an abundance of blooming spring flowers. Second, in the world of teaching, May means the light is at the end of the tunnel. Summer is just a calendar page away…which of course brings with it immeasurable excitement alongside downright panic at the sheer amount of material left to cover/work to do before that page flips; however, today I choose to focus on the good. And third, it means Celiac Awareness Month is upon us. Now I know these days it seems like every cause under the sun has its own day, week, month, or even year and thus it’s easy to disregard such a distinction. And yes, it means very little change in my day-to-day life so it can easily slip right past. However, given the impact such a condition has had on my life, I choose to acknowledge it, celebrate it (if such a thing can be considered celebrating), and raise a little awareness of my own. So here it goes…

Now, I can’t promise you that I’ll post more often during the month of May. It’s my fervent hope and established goal that such a dream will come to fruition; but as I mentioned above, May in the teaching world is just one giant chaotic whirlwind of concerts, sacraments, end-of-year showcases, exams, field trips, graduations…and did I mention grading?? So I’ll see what I can do but please don’t hold me to it 🙂
So what better way to begin Celiac Awareness than a simple list? It’s one I’ve been subconsciously acquiring for 3 years now without even realizing it. I call it “10 Things I Wish People Knew About Living Without Gluten (forget all my other issues)”
1) I am not trendy.
For anyone who knows me, this is an obvious one. Trendy would probably be among the last on the list of possible adjectives to describe me. In fact, it’s pretty close to the top of the “couldn’t be more opposite than Katie” list. And I mean that. After all, the Goodwill is my clothing store of choice at the moment, enough said. One of my kids said it best today when she exclaimed, “Miss Burke, I think I’m an old person trapped in a young person’s body”. I laughed and told her I’ve been saying that for over a decade now (about myself, not her). And yet, there have been some articles popping up recently which deem celiac disease to be “The Trendy Disease for Rich White People”. Now, I’m sorry but the only adjective in that phrase which addresses me is white. I could not be further from rich or trendy…but I will completely own my freakishly pale, only-sunburns-and-never-once-tanned skin. And I would just love for the authors/”scientists” (I use that term loosely)/whomever is behind such articles to explain to me what exactly is trendy about barely living as you’re slowly destroying your intestines, spending innumerable hours in various medical offices/labs, and then living life as a borderline social pariah who obsesses over every piece of food, beverage, lip balm, and oral hygiene product that enters your body. Yes, sounds like the definition of trendy to me. I think someone needs a little gift from Merriam-Webster 🙂
2) I am not fragile.
Yes, as mentioned above, I do obsess a bit about everything I consume. That doesn’t mean I’m fragile or weak. Vigilant, yes. Resourceful at times, absolutely. Fragile? No. I am not going to break if you touch me. You will not magically become intolerant to life too because I run up to you and give you one of my overenthusiastic hugs. I will not self-implode because I walk into a room that has bread in it. Yes, I sincerely appreciate your caution. I love when people don’t cross-contaminate my dish with their spoon or my hummus with their cracker. I am grateful when people wash their hands after handling cookie dough because I’m around. However, I don’t need to be treated like “bubble girl”. I live with my reality every day. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Most of those hours are spent around children under 13. Trust me, I can handle quite a bit 🙂
3) Yes, I know what I’m missing.
I cannot tell you how many times I get asked, “But don’t you miss pizza??/How do you live without bagels??/What about Oreos??” Of course, I do. They’re delicious delicacies that much of the population enjoys without a second thought, except perhaps to consider its potential impact on their waistline, and they’re off-limits to me. I recently described it to a friend as living in a kind of perpetual Lent. There’s no Easter joy of “I can finally eat (insert Lenten sacrifice here) again!!” Though as an astute priest pointed out in his homily last weekend, if we’re doing Lent right, that shouldn’t be the case anyway. Regardless, you get the idea. Yes I know how many amazing foods are no longer on my radar. I also know how horrible the aftermath of such foods would be to my poor body so it’s pretty much a no-brainer. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have my moments…like Tuesday night when I was at the mall and caught a whiff of that distinctive Auntie Anne’s scent. I swear there must be something addictive in those things. In short, yes, I do know what I’m missing and what I’ve lost…but I also know what I’ve gained since my ill, not-quite-a-real-person-anymore days.
4) I hate being introduced as “the girl who is allergic to everything”
You know what they say about first impressions? How you don’t get a 2nd chance to make one? Well, imagine that’s your most frequent introduction. It’s simply human nature for fascinating facts to stick in our minds and so suddenly I’m remembered as the girl who can’t eat anything. I can’t refute: it is fascinating. It boggles my mind sometimes when I think about it. However, there is so much more to my life that I would argue is just as fascinating. And no one would ever introduce me as “the Spelling Bee girl”,  “the girl who decided to pursue two different degrees in college” or “the girl who has taught 6 different grade levels in 6 years of teaching”…so why should my first impression be defined by a food issue that is beyond my control? Yes, it will come up eventually…but it doesn’t define who I am.
5) I miss when grocery shopping was simple.
I LOVE grocery shopping. I always have. However, sometimes as I steer my cart around the perimeter of the grocery store, I miss the days when I could explore the aisles in the middle. I miss when I could notice a new product and grab it off the shelf to try. I miss when I could just choose a sale item and place it in my cart without having to scrutinize the label. I miss having a place I could call my grocery store. Growing up in PA, ours was ShopRite. It was the one store we went to and we only went once a week. You knew once the cookies were gone or your favorite flavor of Pringles was devoured, you were going without until the next week. These days I have about 4 different grocery stores I have to frequent because a “regular” grocery store doesn’t have everything I need. And then even the natural/organic stores all carry different products that I use…so grocery shopping is no longer routine, logical, or methodical. As I drove between stores last Sunday, I reminisced about the days when grocery shopping was a less-than-an-hour event. (Last week took 2.5 with travel time included). It’s not all bad though…I do get to compare 4 different “grocery store radio mixes” of songs from my middle school years. If that doesn’t make your Sunday complete, nothing will.
6) I miss when eating on the run was simple (or even possible).
Some of my favorite memories from childhood involve the nights when one of us had a major life event on a weeknight: Confirmations, Distinguished Award banquets, a championship basketball game, Opening Night of the school music, etc. They were my favorites for many reasons but one major perk was that it usually involved stopping for pizza, Boston Market, or some other quick dinner that we normally didn’t get to enjoy, especially on a weeknight. I still have crazy nights like these as an adult, only now it’s usually because I’m running to such events for my students…but on more than one occasion I’ve longed for the days when I could just run to the Chick-Fila drive-thu or participate in my school’s “place your order for a sub and have your dinner taken care of” plan. Unfortunately, life without gluten means always planning ahead. Like tonight when I have to be at school until 9 to celebrate a year of STEM-related accomplishments, I can’t just grab a quick bite and run back. I have to plan, cook ahead of time, and leave in the morning with not one meal in my lunchbox, but two. Again, on the plus side, it probably means my heart is healthier these days since I can’t eat fast food…but still, some days I really miss it.
7) Life is expensive. And I mean absurdly so.
I’ve referred to this in other posts so I won’t dwell on it. But life without gluten is expensive. No 10 for $10 pasta for us. No 99 cent loaves of Wonder Bread. And moreso than that: almost no generic brands of ANYTHING (save for Wegman’s…God bless Wegman’s :-)) On top of that, there really is no such thing as a free meal. I often think about that when I’m at a conference where lunch is provided or a celebratory event which involves appetizers and dinner. For many people, those are gifts: a night of no cooking and cost-free delicacies they’d never make for themselves. For me, it just means another night to cook, eat ahead of time, and repeatedly decline offers of food people insist is safe for me. I’ve learned such social gatherings are not the place to explain the whole shared cutting board, shared pots and pans situation. If I do, #4 becomes a reality. So in short, there is no way around it: Life is expensive. Even for a frugal, coupon-clipping girl like me.
8) Being “gluten sick” is miserable. Being real sick is downright scary.
There are no words to describe how miserable I feel if I eat gluten. And by that I mean something contaminated by gluten…because I can’t even imagine how bad it would be if I actually ate a bagel or piece of bread. I won’t go into explicit detail because I did in a post awhile back…but all I will say is the phrase “power through” cannot be applied to being “gluten sick”. I am not someone who let sinus infections or headaches stop me in my tracks. But gluten? Well, I literally cannot get off the couch. And I mean that in all sincerity. Also, I’m not a nice person if it happens. Consider yourself warned 🙂  And “normal” sickness (i.e. sinus infections, ear infections, etc.)? They’re not just annoying, they’re frightening. Partially because trying to find safe medication has the challenge of an Olympic event but also because there is always the fear of the treatment making you feel worse and your poor, confused, already-in-overdrive immune system attacking the wrong thing.
9) Going to the dentist is stressful. (And I LOVED going to the dentist.)
I am rare in that I love the dentist. I love seeing my 6-month cleaning on my calendar. Well, I should say loved. Past tense. There are two reasons for this. First, celiac is associated with dental issues. Granted this is only the case when you’re consuming gluten…but once the damage is done, it’s not like the absence of gluten in your system magically refills the cavities or replaces the enamel you lost during the years when you didn’t know what was wrong. So me, the girl who prided herself on a lack of cavities, now has lost track of how many fillings I have. Somehow every time I go, they find something new that needs to be fixed. And that brings me to reason 2 to be stressed. Everything about dental work involves your mouth. So even though you don’t want to think about how much of that stuff makes it’s way into your intestinal tract, I can tell you it does. (Remember, not just during the procedure but when you eat or drink immediately after). I had a procedure done early in my gluten-free days and didn’t think to tell my dentist. Since most adhesives (even Elmer’s glue) contain gluten ingredients, so do many pastes used in dental work. I was confined to the couch for two days, sick as could be while also dealing with a throbbing mouth. It was enough to counteract 24 years of positive dental experiences. I  now dread the dentist.
10) Life without gluten is a full and beautiful one.
I know the first 9 items on this list seem like downers, and that was not at all my intent. I just figure Celiac Awareness Month means people should be made aware of some harsh realities of a world without gluten. However, that being said, no one should feel sorry for us. Everyone in this life has certain burdens and crosses they have to bear. Yes, gluten is one of mine but in the grand scheme of life, that’s a small one. I am happy and I am healthy. It’s a treatable condition. It’s not a condition that involves a long, painful treatment regimen. No, it will never go away…but if I can be healthy just by altering my diet, then I am far luckier than many people in this world. And on top of that, I’ve been introduced to a wonderful community. The gluten-free community (and I mean the real one, not the bandwagon GF friends) is one of the most positive, helpful ones I’ve encountered. People who don’t even know you just want to help. I’ve had fascinating discussions with so many people I never would have known otherwise. We’re happy, we’re loving life, and we’re the farthest thing from sad or pathetic.
So there you have it…Day 1 of raising awareness. Have a great May 1st and be on the lookout for more awareness over the next 31 days 🙂
Posted in Life Lessons

The One-Year Promise: Challenge Issued.

It’s now been almost a week so I’m finally ready to comment on the end of “How I Met Your Mother” (or HIMYM for short). If you haven’t yet seen the finale, please stop reading now or you will learn things you don’t want to know. As the guests who watched the finale with me can attest, I was distraught. First, the wedding we waited for all season ended in divorce less than 3 years later. Second, my “this can’t possibly happen” fear that the mother would in fact be dead by 2030 turned out to be 100% accurate. And last but not least, Ted and Robin, despite 9 seasons of trying to convince myself that they aren’t right for one another, in fact really are and they end up together in the end. Talk about a whirlwind. Now the real reason  the show left me a little lost was that for 5 seasons now (no I wasn’t a loyal follower from day 1) I always thought that the overarching message of the show was that even when the universe seems to be sending every possible sign that someone or something is right for you, that if you’re patient and wait, there is something so much better waiting for you. In the end it turns out the message is…well, the universe always wins. And while for a day or two, I found that message troublesome, I have now come to see it as comforting. There’s a plan, and despite our blunders, mistakes, missteps, or efforts to thwart that plan, it’s inevitable. So now I’m back onboard my HIMYM fan train. And I found out this weekend that the first 8 seasons are available on Amazon Prime. Good bye, productivity and sleep 🙂

My farewell to HIMYM spread…

Now onto my next thought. Among other things, HIMYM provided some valuable (and other not-so-valuable) life lessons. Though they are created by and applicable to fictional characters, these lessons can be very real. Next thought: there will come a day when I will have a conversation with my own future children about the development of my food issues. I pray fairly often that these yet-to-be children will have immune systems with slightly better discernment skills than my own…so my hope is that one day they’ll be chomping on an Oreo or devouring a slice of pizza as I explain my memories of such delicious foods. I’ll call my story “How I Embraced my Food Issues” (HIEMFI for short). I’ll have my own life lessons to share which like the ones from HIMYM can apply across a variety of situations and circumstances. For example:
Life Lesson #1: 
(HIMYM) The Olive Theory: According to Lily and Marshall, if one person in a relationship likes olives and the other person doesn’t, then they have a perfect balance and are meant to be together.
(HIEMFI) The Cheese Theory: According to Katie, if one person in a relationship has a casein allergy and thus cannot eat dairy, and the other person loves cheese enough to consume the items off both plates at social gatherings, the relationship is bound for success. If not, the ensuing social awkwardness will likely take its toll.

Life Lesson #2:  
(HIMYM) The Front Porch Test- According to Lily, the most important people in your life are the ones you can picture sitting on a porch with in 50 years; hence all potential significant others in a group are subject to this test.
 (HIEMFI) The Kitchen Table Test- According to Katie, the most important people in a food-allergy life are the ones who aren’t afraid to gather around the table and share a meal with you. In doing so, they take care not to contaminate hummus with pretzels or crackers and ensure that they don’t cross the threshold of the allergy-safe section of the table with any contaminated items, including utensils…and they do all this without making you feel like a high-maintenance freak of nature. Katie may cry tears of profound joy at finding anyone who passes this test.

Life Lesson #3: 
(HIMYM) The Lemon Law– According to Barney, “from the moment a date begins, you have 5 minutes to decide whether you’re going to commit to an entire evening and if you don’t, it’s no hard feelings, just good night, thanks for playing”
(HIEMFI) The Scope Scoot– According to Katie, the first time you tell someone about the Scope issue related to your foodallergies, they have a free pass to scoot. There is absolutely no judgment…because let’s be honest, it’s a lot to ask of a person. And if you find someone who doesn’t scoot, well marry them because they’re too wonderful to let get away!! (Just kidding…kind of)
There are so many other life lessons from both HIMYM and from my own story but for today I’d like to focus on one. The One Year promise. To set the scene, I recommend watching this clip from Season 9
You should never underestimate the power of one year. This resonated in a special way for me this past week and weekend. One year ago last Monday was Easter Sunday. 1 year ago I made it through ¾ of Easter Sunday mass with my family before the tightness in my chest proved too much. As hives broke out on my arms, I was forced to head back to Baltimore and spend a few hours in Urgent Care. I ate Easter dinner from Boston Market with the Saint in Shorts and aT-Shirt before promptly curling up in a ball on the couch because the mashed potatoes I ate had butter, which I didn’t know at the time was making everything worse. I ended up in the ER two days later after eating some cheese that sent my hives and my breathing into full-fledged crisis mode. And yet that following Saturday, I was determined to complete a 5K I had signed up for weeks earlier.
1 year ago: I may have forced a smile but you’ll notice I’m not even standing up straight.
My stomach wouldn’t let me 😦
I arrived that morning at the race with that same saint as my faithful sidekick. We parked as close as possible to the starting line and I left the car clutching my water bottle in one hand and an inhaler in the other. We reviewed how many pumps of the inhaler I had been instructed to try before having to switch to the more potent medication in my cinch bag. We discussed how long to wait before adding a second dose of that and then when would be the time to seek more medical treatment elsewhere. Even the walk to the starting line seemed like a mile. My body was still weak, my stomach was not my friend, and my lungs were angry at me for unknowingly poisoning myself on a regular basis. We ran and walked our way through that race, walking up the steep Patterson Park hills that proved too much for my angry lungs. My hand never stopped clutching my inhaler and the few moments when my loyal companion disappeared to use the bathroom were nervewracking enough to make me realize just how dependent I’d become on others for my own sense of safety and comfort. The goal that day was not time or even running the whole course; rather it was crossing the finish line without having to surrender to the myriad health issues which threatened my success in doing just that. I’m proud to say that I did make it across that finish line. It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t pretty but I did it. And then I went home and slept for the next 4 hours…and didn’t leave the couch for the rest of the weekend. And I remember promising myself “Next year you’ll be back. And next year you’ll run across the finish”.
Well, fast forward a year later. This past weekend the same run was taking place in the same park. However, I had already committed to another race before I knew the dates conflicted. Of course, as luck would have it, this race covered much of the same course…just an hour earlier. This year as I got ready to leave my apartment, I saw that same inhaler sitting in my box of now-obsolete medications. I’m not sure if I still have them because I keep forgetting to find one of those “safely dispose of medication” days or because that shoebox reminds me on a regular basis just how far I’ve come and how truly lucky I am to be back where I am now. I shut the closet door on that inhaler and walked out the door into the Saturday morning sunshine.
I arrived at the race this year on my own. I carried no cinch bag and aside from the car key tied to my shoe, I had no other possessions on my person. I laughed with other runners at the starting corral and when the race began, I ran. I ran up hills and down; I approached that same hill I was forced to walk up a year ago and I ran to the top. It still wasn’t easy or pretty…but this time it was the “normal” challenge of burning leg muscles and a cramp in my side. I finished the race without walking…and finished in the top 20 for my age group. I enjoyed the post-race festivities and headed home for a quick shower before meeting the Saint in a Bow Tie for iced coffee and wedding planning discussions (his wedding of course, not mine). I went to lunch with friends I hadn’t seen in far too long and I rounded the day out with a fun-filled evening at my school’s Bull and Oyster Roast. Yes, I took a quick nap in between those events…but nothing like the incapacitating exhaustion of last year’s race. Then today I took a day-trip to Scranton, PA to see my sister complete her own goal of running a half-marathon. As I crossed back over the border into Maryland tonight, all I could think about was the difference 1 year can make. I made a promise to myself a year ago and this weekend I kept that promise, and then some.
1 weekend, 2 races, 2 medals 🙂
So my advice to you today: make yourself a promise. Pick one thing in your life that you want to keep, fix, change, or eliminate by this time next year. Whatever it is, commit to it. Promise yourself that come April 6, 2015 you will have kept this promise. Believe in it, work at it, and make it come true. It’s another one of those life lessons you can apply to the food allergy world and beyond. You can share your promise with someone or you can keep it close to your heart. Regardless of what you choose, just remember a year from now, it can be your reality.
Courtesy of Dana Guidera
Now, go out there and get started. I’ll be checking in with you in 365 days. Challenge issued 🙂

Posted in Life Lessons, Meals/Sides

Love Shout-Out #2: The Simple Things

I bet I can predict three of the thoughts running through your head right now: 1) Hmmm, I figured she abandoned these love shout-outs since there hasn’t been one since the 2nd week of the year; 2) The Simple Things? I can’t wait to find out what cutesy store/fine dining establishment chose that name; and 3) Seriously, Katie, where have you been for a month? I figured you gave up on the blog.
In answer to those questions: no, I haven’t given up on the love shout-outs OR on the Year of Love. There’s been love all around…I’ve just struggled in finding time to write about it. Soaking it in is better than writing about it anyway, right? No, I didn’t give up my blog either. In fact it actually surprised me how much I’ve missed writing. The short summary is I had a week of end-of-trimester/report card craziness followed by a week away with my kids at an adventure camp (yes, overnight camp with 11 year-olds…an adventure to say the least) and then…remember when I posted about illness and how those of us with autoimmune diseases just band together for cold and flu season and hope for the best? Well, this year I fell short. I came down with a double ear infection which then morphed into a fullblown sinus infection which culminated in a 102 degree fever that had the doctor debating whether I’d have to end my now-approaching-1-year-since-an-ER-visit streak for IV fluids. Fortunately my immune system figured itself out and though it’s been a long week of slowly recovering my strength, I am now happy to report I’m almost back to full health. Thank goodness for Advil, Katie-safe antibiotics, and a new corn-syrup free variety of Gatorade for getting me through.
Now onto those simple things. It was only capitalized above because it’s the title of this post. I’m not talking about a trendy boutique or a new farm-to-table café. No, I quite literally mean the simple things in life : the moments, events, objects, and yes even people, that are so simple and yet in that simplicity bring us profound joy. You know the moments I mean: when the song you’ve been waiting to hear comes on the radio just as you get in the car; when there’s time left on a meter outside the post office when you just need to run inside for stamps; when there’s a buy 1, get 1 free sale on the ingredient you need for your next baking endeavor; when an entire class of 6thgraders is fixated on a Disney movie and you actually get a moment to correct papers during indoor recess.  Such moments will never inspire Oscar-worthy movies or Pulitzer-Prize-winning novels…but it is the profound joy of these simple moments which remind us that we are loved, honored,and cherished by people in this world but also by a Creator who gifted us moments such as these.
As anyone who knows me will attest, I tend to find much greater joy in the simple things than your average person. However, even I have to admit that has been exponentially magnified this week. I think it’s human nature that when any of us bounce back from an illness, we’re more appreciative of the little things. On that first morning venturing off the couch when you just can’t believe how far the walk from your front door to the car really seems to be, you swear you’ll never take your health for granted again. Of course a week later, you’re bounding out the door again and rushing to the car with a million to-do  list items in your mind and you’ve already broken that promise…again, human nature.
For those of you who are calendar fiends like myself, you may remember that last year, this week was Holy Week. Easter Sunday was March 31st and I was counting down the days until I could drink coffee again. Not only that, I was in the worst health I had been since my initial diagnosis three years ago. I was weak and I was tired. My stomach hurt constantly. I could barely make it through a day of school…and on 2 different occasions, I didn’t. I was sad, I was scared, I was frustrated, and I was confused. I would arrive at school each morning envious of other teachers who walked into school with what I considered “normal problems”. They weren’t worried about feeling faint during class, having enough energy to make it to 3 PM without a rest in the nurse’s office, or a constant pain in their stomach. I remember thinking back on my healthier days as a teacher and longing for the “normal” stress of a regular day. I promised myself if they every figured out what was wrong with me, I’d never complain about those “normal” stressors again. Well, fast forward a year later…boy, did I break that promise.
Just as with a typical illness, I have fallen back into the “normalcy” of life and those little things I once dreamed of doing suddenly became expected and routine. I find myself stressing about the very things I once dreamed of being able to do. I had to teach non-stop without a break because of the schedule changes and mass. I had to go to three different meetings and a dinner in one week. I had to find time to get to the bank, the gym, and the grocery store in time for “How I Met Your Mother”. I should have been finding joy in these things: I GET to teach all day without worry about blood sugar crashes, stomachaches, or dizzy spells. I GET to attend three different meetings to offer my thoughts, share a few laughs, and make a real impact; I GET to attend a dinner (even if my plate remains mostly empty) without a contingency plan for the quickest low-key exit door and shortest route to the nearest medical office; I GET to run errands, go for a run, and cook a delicious meal before settling in on the couch without curling up in a tired, confused, pain-filled ball. And all it took was a brief bout of illness to remind me of that.
So this week I’ve been feeling a little bit like Olaf. (If you haven’t seen Frozen, do yourself a favor…go get it. And I mean now!) I’ve found the greatest joy in the simplest things: yes, the beauty of a March snowfall, a sale on gluten-free matzah (who knew Passover would bring out so many Katie-safe options in the grocery store??),  the sparkle in the eye of a student (or colleague) when they share something that excites them; but it’s even simpler than that. I find joy in being able to get out of bed when my alarm goes off in the morning, in walking out the door without having to remember sugar packets in case of possible blood sugar crashes during the day, in eating a meal without the crippling anxiety of wondering if it will leave me doubled over in pain or struggling to take a deep breath. Even the simple fact of sitting on my couch in my own apartment brings me indescribable joy…because I’m lucky enough to have a home, yes, but also because there was a time when I (and several friends/health professionals) had severe reservations about the safety of my being alone for multiple hours at a time. I find joy in my prayer time before I go to sleep…because the time that was once filled with pleas for answers, health, and healing can now be spent in deeper reflection and in prayer for other people and their needs.
So today I encourage you to do the same. See the world like Olaf does…as if you’re seeing it all for the first time and each simple little thing is the most fascinating and beautiful thing you’ve ever encountered. I’ll think you’ll be surprised how much joy can fill your heart in doing so…and in turn, how much joy you can share with others around you.
Courtesy of

And in the spirit of this simplicity, this wouldn’t be complete without a simple, allergy-friendly meal suggestion: Irish stew. Growing up, we ate this every year on St. Patrick’s Day. I asked almost every year why we didn’t have Corned Beef and Cabbage and the answer always had something to do with the fact that my grandfather (born and raised in Ireland) had never heard of such a meal until he came to America. While that may be true, I also realize now that it also probably had a lot to do with the simplicity of this dish. In a 100% Irish household, the weeks surrounding St. Patrick’s Day can be crazy ones. We were like an assembly line of Irish soda bread makers…every teacher, neighbor, and homeroom class had to have one (times 3 kids). Not to mention, my sister and I were competitive Irish Step dancers for many years. The number of performances, parades, mall exhibitions, etc. multiplied exponentially each March. And even in the years after we “retired” from dancing competitively, we still dusted off those shoes every March 17th for the remainder of our grade school/high school days to perform for various music classes at our school. With all that to keep organized (not to mention the hair curling that had to take place), I realize now that stew was a quick multi-day meal option which could easily be reheated to suit the crazy schedule that was St. Patrick’s Day time in the Burke household.

So regardless of the date on the calendar, here is a simple, go-to recipe that will leave you with easily reheatable food for days and days to come. Thank goodness I made a big batch right before my most recent illness struck. Nothing like the joy of a microwaveable meal when the journey from couch to fridge seems more like a marathon.
Simple Irish Stew
1 lb. lamb (or beef works too)
4 cups vegetable broth (GF)
potatoes, celery, carrots, onion, whatever else strikes your fancy 🙂
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 tsp. thyme
2 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. pepper
3-4 cabbage leaves

1) I recommend browning the meat first on a stovetop…no chance of undercooked meat!
2) Mix all ingredients in the crockpot. Top off with the cabbage leaves and cook on low for 5-6 hours.
Yep, it’s that simple!
Now go out there today and live like Olaf. Notice the simple things in your day: celebrate them, and savor them. And do yourself a favor: love like Olaf too; openly, honestly, selflessly, and joyfully. I mean, it is the Year of Love after all 🙂
Jeanne’s Custom Creations
Posted in Life Lessons, Uncategorized

If He Could Smile…

Since I got sick, there are certain questions I get asked over and over. However, the one that takes the cake (gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, egg-free of course) is easy:  “Katie, I just don’t get it, how do you stay so positive about all of this?” And the answer to that one is even easier. I grew up with someone who taught me, not by words but by example, that humor and laughter are the best weapons with which to face any obstacle or battle.
My dad was an amazing man. He was kind. He was funny. He had a laugh that could liven up any room. He was smart. He loved to sing. I’m also 98% certain he was tone deaf.  There were few things he loved more in life than Burger King Whoppers and Diet Pepsi. He had the charm of a salesman (which he was) but the moral compass and selflessness of a saint (which he also was). He was the strongest person I’ve ever known. By the time I entered his life, he had already defeated a brain tumor. He still suffered from migraine headaches and every so often his facial muscles would get confused and he’d take on what I innocently dubbed his “Popeye face” for a few minutes.
As I watched him through my six and seven-year-old eyes, I learned many things. I learned that you put 110% into your job all week but that Saturdays are for sleeping in, family time, and community service.  I learned that Sunday mornings are spent in church and every other Sunday afternoon you hang out with the old ladies while volunteering at church BINGO. I learned that you are not entitled to anything in life; rather when you are fortunate enough to receive something, you give thanks and you pay it forward. I learned that you always apologize when you make a mistake…and sometimes even when you don’t think you did.  I learned that you always calculate unit cost for the best bargain at the grocery store and you never leave without counting your change for accuracy. I learned that you never stop telling people you love them and that nothing could change that…even if they roll their eyes at you because they’ve heard it nearly every night for 8 years.
When I was 9, a lot of things changed. My dad got sick. So sick that he was soon transferred to a hospital in New York City, 2 hours away from our home in the Poconos. My grandparents moved in on a rotating basis during the week…but weekends were still reserved for family time. Only now family time consisted of fighting over who got to push Dad around the hospital halls in his wheelchair followed by Scrabble matches in a waiting room overlooking the Hudson River. Through it all, however, some things remained the same. My dad was still kind. His smile could still light up a room. And he still cracked jokes to anyone who would listen.
Over the next few years, he endured a variety of procedures, appointments, tests, and medications that make my last 3 years look like a walk in the park. As I watched his illness progress through my eleven and twelve-year-old eyes, I continued to learn from him. I learned that you may have to start your day with a shot-glass full of pills. Literally. (And since our house rarely had alcohol in it, it was years before I realized what most people actually use those little glasses for)… but that just means you liven it up with sports-themed glasses. I learned that you might be forced to give up your job and your driver’s license…but that just means you learn to navigate the less-than-stellar Pocono public transportation system.  I learned that life doesn’t always turn out the way you plan…but that doesn’t give you a reason to be angry. I learned that you squeeze the most joy, love, and laughter out of each day that you possibly can….and you bottle it up to sustain you when the darker days come along. I learned that there are two things that can keep you going, even in the darkest of days: family and faith.
My dad wasn’t very outspoken about his faith but it was always evident how important it was to him. He helped start a weekly soup kitchen at our parish. He took off from work on Good Friday every year so he could take us to the Walking Way of the Cross in our town. Nearly every Friday was spent at our parish Lenten dinners and every Good Friday night was spent volunteering…carrying hundreds of lilies off trucks to transform the church in time for the Easter Vigil.
A few years into his illness, my dad ordered a picture from a religious catalog (I know, this was way back in the days before internet). I remember the picture arriving and he framed it and placed it on a shelf right next to where he rested his hat, glasses, and class ring each night. It was a picture of Jesus, but one I had never seen before. In it, Christ was laughing. I still remember watching my dad take it out of the envelope and, noticing my inquisitive face, he explained to me that this was always his favorite picture of Christ. Because in all the books, movies, TV specials, etc. everyone thinks of Jesus as this serious guy and he loved that this picture reminded him that Jesus had a sense of humor. Even in the midst of healing the sick, dealing with the Pharisees, teaching his Apostles, etc., Jesus was human and thus, he smiled. He laughed. And as my dad so eloquently put it, “Katie, if Jesus can smile through all that, then so can I”. Every so often in life, you come across those rare moments in which you just know you’re making a memory that will never leave you…and our conversation that day was one of those moments for me which is forever etched in my memory. After he died, I kept that picture. It has traveled with me to every classroom in which I’ve taught. During my days in DC, I looked at it often and heard his words echoing in my mind. I even shared them with my ACE roommates for community prayer one night…because goodness knows, those were some dark days there.

Throughout my health struggles, my dad has never been far from my mind. Watching him face his own challenges with such courage, humor, and grace unknowingly set the stage for me. Compared to the challenges he confronted, avoiding a few (OK it’s more than a few) food groups hardly seems like something worth stressing over. He’s been my silent strength, my quiet inspiration, and my reminder to laugh during all of this.
This week he’s been on my mind more than usual. First, because when I heard the news report about the death of Harold Ramis yesterday, I was shocked to hear the name of the autoimmune disease which attributed to his death. It’s the same one my dad had…one that you rarely hear mentioned at all, let alone on the mainstream news stations. Second, because it was 14 years ago this week when he and I had to say our final good-byes.

This time of year is always hard for our family but this one is especially poignant for me. See, I was 14 years old that year, which means that this year, as we celebrate the anniversary of his heavenly homecoming, I reach the halfway point: 14 years and 7 weeks with him in my life, followed by 14 years and 7 weeks without him. I’ll admit there is a small piece of my heart that wishes I could just stop time before Friday morning arrives. That way I’ll never have to confront the reality of living in a world without my dad longer than I did with him by my side. But I also know that isn’t what he’d want. He’d want me to laugh and sing (even if it’s horribly off-key) and spread a little sunshine on his behalf. So come Thursday, I’ll celebrate the way I always do. I’ll drink a Diet Pepsi in his honor. I’ll eat a giant hamburger. Granted I can’t have the bun or American cheese this year, but I know he’ll understand. I’ll skip the canoli dessert…at least until I come up with my own allergen-safe version of those. I will live. I will laugh. And most importantly, I will love.

So in answer to the #3 most frequently asked question: how do I stay so positive? That’s an easy one. Because I learned from the best. And because he was right: if Jesus can smile in the midst of lepers, thieves, tax collectors, doubting Apostles, and scheming Pharisees, then I can surely smile…even in a world without gluten, dairy, soy, or corn.  🙂
Posted in Life Lessons, Super Bowl Sunday

It’s Super Bowl Sunday!!

Yes, I know, I hear you, “Thank you, Captain Obvious”.

I just have to say today has been a day full of memories for me. For whatever reason, specific events tend to be tied to specific memories…and today has certainly been one of those for me. The Super Bowl might be the most food-oriented event of the entire year. At least in America, that is. Even as a kid, I remember setting out a blanket on the living room floor each year and creating our own indoor picnic. It was the one night of the year we got to eat whatever food we wanted in the living room…that’s a big deal. I remember surrounding myself with bowls of cheese doodles, Ruffles potato chips (with ridges), and my favorite dip (you know the delicious one with the Lipton Onion soup mix combined with sour cream…mmmmm!). My brother and I even got to do something we never, and I mean NEVER, got to do on a Sunday night…drink soda. (That was only reserved for Friday nights and family parties.) Needless to say, the Super Bowl was the one (and I mean ONE) night of the year when I actually looked forward to football coming on TV.

I started thinking back over Super Bowl Sundays of the past few years today, and to my surprise I’m able to consciously remember where I was and how I celebrated each and every one. Granted, I’m sure the fact that it’s on a Sunday night helps. I remember fondly my Super Bowl Sundays at Villanova…see, I played violin at 8 PM mass, and no, Jesus doesn’t stop just for a football game, so each year I started the festivities with my friends and floormates before making the trek across campus (or next-door sophomore year) to an unbelievably empty church. By the time mass was over at 9, it was usually pretty clear who the winner would be…and I’d missed a majority of the commercials…but I’d join back in the fun anyway. I have to say, without a doubt, those 4 SuperBowl nights spent in church are still among my favorite masses I’ve ever played for…or attended for that matter. My years in ACE were spent gathered around the TV for a rare night in which all of us actually ventured down from our various corners of the house to watch the same thing. And in the years since arriving in Baltimore, I’ve spent each Super Bowl Sunday with some combination of the “saints in street clothes” who were my lifeline during my initial days here. And what did all of those nights have in common?? FOOD. Inordinate amounts of delicious food.

Of course, for most of those nights I was free to eat anything and everything my little heart desired. If only I could turn back time and savor those nights… I remember my first Super Bowl Sunday in Baltimore was in the midst of my mystery illness. Just weeks before, it had been suggested by my doctor that I try this “gluten-free” diet and see if it helped. So as I trudged to my friend’s apartment with my bags of potato skins, nacho fixings, and Woodchuck Cider, I remember telling myself that this gluten-free thing wouldn’t be so hard. Of course, I know now that I had no idea what I was doing: at the time my assumption was no wheat ingredient listed, I’m good to go. Present-day Katie just shakes her head at poor, naive 2011 Katie. I cooked on baking sheets full of gluten residue, I used bacon that certainly wasn’t gluten-free, and the cross-contamination on that table I can’t even begin to imagine. Well, if I needed any confirmation that my doctor was correct, I remember leaving my friend’s house that night feeling so sick I almost stopped halfway through my walk home to curl up on the Safeway bathroom floor…yet still, I was skeptical about my doctor’s suspicions. Denial, denial, denial…it IS more than a river in Egypt.

Thankfully, by SuperBowl 2012, I had adjusted to my new lifestyle, and my fantastic group of friends had graciously adapted to gatherings with me…keeping gluten-filled treats on one side of the table, not sharing spoons, knives, etc….and I enjoyed a SuperBowl feast in health and happiness. The same held true last year. So what about this year? SuperBowl 2014… gone are my traditional nachos (corn and cheese), my delicious sour-cream based dip (who knew I used so much dairy??), even my gluten-free crackers and cheese plate is a thing of the past (soy and…yep, milk). And I was assigned to work the 3-11 shift tonight at the hospital! Not shaping up to be the best evening, right? I certainly didn’t think so.

But, as usual, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Because here I sit surrounded by delicious food: Old Bay baked chicken wings, snap peas with hummus, Beanitos White Bean “faux tortilla” chips and guacamole, and a can of root beer (cane sugar sweetened, don’t worry). And I’ve made two new friends who have gathered with me in the great room for a fun-filled evening of commercial-analysis. No, I don’t really understand football so I’ve been typing this during the game and I stop for the commercial breaks. I know, Notre Dame friends, shake your heads, it’s OK. Just remember I didn’t go there for undergrad. The first football game I ever attended was freshman year of college…and let’s just say at the time, Villanova football left a lot to be desired.

A Katie-Safe SuperBowl spread…

So here I am, on another Super Bowl Sunday, learning life lessons once again:

  1. I learned what a “safety” is…and that someone can in fact be winning a football game by a score of 2-0…who knew??
  2. I’ve learned that there seems to be an inverse relationship between the growth of technology and the creative spirit…because these commercials are not what they used to be  
  3. I’ve learned that despite new limitations, with a little bit of planning, I can still enjoy every event…even those based primarily on food
  4. Most importantly, I’ve learned that every day, night, minute, and second are worth celebrating. See, these 2 lovely new friends of mine returned home from the hospital tonight with news that their family member lost her cancer battle today. Tomorrow they’ll be making arrangements and taking her home…but for tonight, they told me they’re going to enjoy the game in her honor…because that’s what she would have wanted.

So as they sit with their haphazard meal of crackers, soup, and wine in plastic cups and I sit with my array of Katie-safe treats, I know this will be a Super Bowl Sunday I’ll never forget. Because this year I was reminded what Super Bowl Sunday is all about: enjoying time with people around you, treating yourself to all the delicious “you-safe” foods you can stomach, laughing at great commercials (or at least attempts at great), and staying up later than you should on a Sunday night.

Because field goal kicks and 4th-down attempts are sometimes short…and so is life…