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 Celiac "Fun" Facts, Newly-Diagnosed

3 Years and Counting…

Today marks the anniversary of one of the longest-running relationships I have to my name: Katie and Celiac. Yes, on this date back in 2011, I watched hours of Gilmore Girls in a waiting room with the Saint in a Sundress before they wheeled me in for the procedure that would finally yield an answer to my mystery symptoms. I still remember waking up from my anesthesia-induced nap with a scratchy throat, some high-definition photos of my poor eroded intestines, and a new lease on life. Granted, the official confirmation didn’t come until a few days later when I fielded the phone call from my doctor en route to see the final installment of the Harry Potter series. I’ll be honest, it remains one of the more surreal evenings of my life: seated in a sold-out movie theater, surrounded by kids (and some adults too) dressed in their finest wizarding garb, watching the end of an era in fictional entertainment while my brain tried to process the end of an era in my own life too.

Well, here we are three years later and my life has certainly gone on. And fittingly, we learned this week the same can be said for Harry and the gang. (Those of you who are not diehard Potter fans/Pottermore subscribers like myself, you may have missed this) Harry is going gray and I now have a litany of additional food restrictions but regardless, life goes on.

So why celebrate the anniversary of a not-so-happy occasion?? Well, aside from my obsession with calendars, I truly believe in commemorating such milestones because it’s not so much the actual day which you’re celebrating, but rather all the time and growth that has taken place during the time that has since passed. Consider work, relationship, or even wedding anniversaries: is it really that one day back when it all started that you’re celebrating? I sure hope not. All you did that one day was put on a nice suit or expensive dress, drive somewhere new, and then start a new job/meet a new person/pledge your life to someone/whatever the case may be. Yes it was a day which was slightly out of the ordinary and yes it was one which could forever change the trajectory of your life. However, if the next morning you went back to your old routine and didn’t change a single thing moving forward, well then is that “landmark” day really still worth celebrating?? No, in my mind the point of an anniversary is to acknowledge the journey between a given point and where you are, and that means all the changes, adventures, mountains, and valleys you confronted along the way. Hence in my book, anniversaries, friend-iversaries, Baltimore-iversaries, and yes, even Celiac-iversaries, are worth celebrating.

My 1st Celiac-iversary: Gluten-free cake and cider 🙂

So, on that note, how does one celebrate a Celiac-iversary?? Well, this year for me it means white rice. And lots of it. As luck would have it, some specks of cheese snuck into my otherwise Katie-safe salad yesterday (I won’t call out the establishment because I’ve never had a problem with them before…and it’s my own fault for not inspecting it before I bit in) and though I only had a few bites before noticing, the damage was done and my stomach and I are not on the best of terms. So, white rice it is. Second, I figure why not celebrate with a list of interesting facts about Celiac…some of my own choosing and some in response to the questions which I am most frequently fielding from others.

1) Yes, I was born with Celiac. Well, sort of. I get this question in a variety of forms all the time. (“Wait, this just happened to you one day?”, “Could you ever eat gluten?”, “Have you ever eaten a piece of bread?”) The answer is a confusing one. As far as research has shown, those with Celiac have the gene from birth. For whatever reason, the gene is activated at some point in a person’s lifetime, while it remains dormant for others who have the gene. So, in short, yes I was born with it but I lived in blissful ignorance until 3 years ago…well really 4 because the year leading up to that was not blissful, more like mysterious confusion. And as for the traumatic event which triggered it in my case? I still blame the dogbite incident of 2010. Though I’ll never know for sure, I think the fact that my symptoms started just 2 weeks after that fateful day is too questionable to chalk up to coincidence. And that, my friends, is also why I am not, and most likely never will be, a dog person.

    2) Celiac is most common among Caucasian women of European descent. Yep, that’s true.This very pale 100% Irish girl fits the bill entirely. I do still love my heritage though. Nothing like a cup of Barry’s tea, a fiddle tune on the violin, and a new patch of freckles despite the frequent application of SPF 75 sunscreen. And at least it also explains my unnatural obsession with all things potato 🙂

      3) I need to move to Italy. Like for real. I was fortunate enough to go to Rome at Christmastime in 2012 (and see Pope Benedict in his final weeks before stepping down!) and let me tell you, it was a dream come true. For many reasons of course, but a major one was that in every restaurant all I had to say was “senza glutine” or “un celiaco” and everyone knew what it meant, what I could eat, and how to keep me safe. And, hold your breath, it gets even better! Every Italian is tested for Celiac before his or her 6th birthday, every Italian over the age of 10 with a Celiac diagnosis receives a stipend each month (worth roughly 140 Euro) to cover the excess cost of their gluten-free food AND they even get additional “sick” time at most jobs to allow for gluten-free food preparation!! I was floored. Don’t believe it, it’s all here.So who is with me?? Italia, here we come 🙂

      Amazing gluten-free dish in Vatican City!
       4) There is a mouse with Celiac Disease. And what’s worse? They gave it to him. There’s a reason I called this list interesting facts and not fun facts. It feels wrong to describe a mouse inflicted with Celiac as a fun fact. Researchers at the University of Chicago Center for Celiac Research designed a study which involved inflicting a mouse (well, I’m guessing it’s many mice) with Celiac so that testing can be done to develop a treatment. They claim by 2026 it will happen. I’m not holding my breath…

      I’d never have pictures
      like this if it weren’t
      for celiac hahaha
      5) I don’t hate Celiac. I know, shocking right? I’ve actually spent more time thinking about this than I care to admit. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t love it either. However, I think there is just a little too much hate in the world to add any more. Plus, would my hatred toward it do anything to change it or eradicate it? Nope. So I say hating it would just let it win. Not to mention, whether I like it or not, it certainly did change the trajectory of my life. It’s made it more challenging to be sure, but it’s also opened my eyes to a world of knowledge, support, and love which I would have never experienced otherwise. It has become such an all-encompassing part of my life that I can’t really imagine my life without it anymore. Sometimes I really do wonder what I could be doing with all that excess brainspace which is now occupied by gluten-related knowledge, recipes, doctor appointment reminders, etc. Or what I could be accomplishing in the hours I spend cooking and baking from scratch, driving between 3 different grocery stores, and researching new establishments and updates on the internet. Maybe I could have cracked the code on the Beale ciphers and be rich by now. Alas, the world will never know…

        Yes, I’d say in the 3 years since Celiac and I have been acquainted, we’ve learned to co-exist pretty well. I mean aside from the fact that it occasionally derails my plans (like this weekend for example). It’s been a crazy 3 years for sure and I have no doubt there’s more craziness, tears, and frustration ahead but for today, I choose to focus on how far I’ve come and how I’ve managed to find joy, laughter, and fulfillment in spite of my pesky life companion 🙂
        If I had never joined Team Gluten-Free,
        my life would be drastically different:
        I mean, I never would have discovered Sweet Freedom.
        3 years down, forever to go…going strong 🙂
        Posted in Bread/Muffins, Newly-Diagnosed, Tips and Tricks

        A Summer of Cookouts

        Summer has unofficially arrived. The pools are open, the sno-ball stands are back in operation, farmer’s markets are back in full swing, and of course the sweet aroma of BBQ is back in the air. That’s right…it’s BBQ season. From Memorial Day on, the invitations are in full swing. Cookouts become a regular part of the weekend routine. They’re great little gatherings where friends, family, co-workers, etc.  share in laughs, fellowship, and delicious food.  Of course you’re nervous: doesn’t your entry into the world of food allergies make these laid-back, joyous gatherings a source of great stress and anxiety?? Isn’t the simple joy of a summer BBQ a thing of the past for you?? Don’t worry, the answer is absolutely not. It just takes a little bit of planning and you’ll be ready to go!

        Here’s a tip: grill ahead. Yes, you can bring your own meat and foil and spatula and barbecue along with the resident grillmaster. However, I personally would still be a bit nervous about that. Your burger will be in awfully close proximity to bread-crumb-filled burgers, swiftly melting cheddar cheese…not to mention those toasted burger buns. In my mind, it’s just a recipe for disaster. In the end, it’s your call but I personally prefer the “grill ahead and pack a lunchbox” option 🙂
        Katie’s 5 Simple Steps to a Summer of Fantastic “You-Safe” BBQs:
        •   A few hours prior to BBQ time, cook something delicious. However, I would suggest you always pose the following question to yourself, “Self, how will this taste reheated later??” If it won’t reheat well, choose a different entrée. I don’t actually have a grill at the moment, apartment living only allows for so much. However, I did recently discover the joy that is a broiler. That’s right, in the 28 years I’ve lived on this earth, I never used a broiler until a few weeks ago. (in my defense, our house growing up had an electric oven and thus no broiler)…and I can tell you my life will never be the same. Burgers, roasts, chicken: I’ve found a multitude of ways to put my newfound toy to good use. 🙂 
        • Make  a side dish: Take it from me, there’s nothing like getting to a cookout and seeing a vast picnic table full of side dish options for the other guests while you sit with just your lonely (albeit delicious ) entrée of choice. Yes, potato chips can suffice in a pinch…but really try to treat yourself. It will make the whole afternoon far more enjoyable.

        These are amazing and SO simple! Just chop up small red potatoes, mix them in a bowl with olive oil, rosemary, garlic, sea salt, and pepper, then bake at 450 until browning 🙂
        • Learn to to love lettuce! Yes those delectably satisfying hamburger rolls are a thing of the past…but take it from me, a decent lettuce wrap really can be an acceptable substitute. Just choose your lettuce carefully (I always go for the romaine) and DON”T skimp. You have to use a lot to give it an effective bun-like quality. And seriously, it’s lettuce; whether it’s money or calories you’re counting, it won’t put much of a dent in either category. 
        • Pickles. They’re amazing, they’re delicious, they’re cheap.  Always have a jar in the fridge. That’s all I have to say about that.

        • Dessert  is easy! AS I’ve said time and time again, don’t sell yourself short and decide to skip dessert. It may seem like a great idea when you’re tired and don’t feel like cooking yet another thing for yourself in advance…but trust me, you’ll feel much differently when dessert time arrives and you’re sitting with an empty plate. Additionally, in summer, dessert is even easier! Fruit salad is always a perfect default option. Buy some grapes, watermelon, strawberries, and blueberries, cut them up and toss them in a bowl! You’ve got and allergy-safe (and somewhat patriotic) dessert that you can share with the group! Just make sure you dig in first before those contaminated spoons have a chance to do so. Heck, bring some whipped cream for other guests to add to their fruit serving and you may be the new hero of the BBQ.  It’s that simple!!  
          • And for those gatherings where you’re feeling slightly more ambitious, you’ve got to try this recipe. I think I’m still on Cloud-9 from eating these and it was over 3 weeks ago! (Remember: end of year craziness = no time to share great recipes) 
        Perfect Summer-Time Lemon Bars
        (Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, Egg-Free) 
        Squeeze 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice.
        Mix with agar flakes (3 Tbsp. flakes with 3 Tbsp. water)
        (unless you’re fortunate enough to eat egg whites…then I’d say stick with those!)
        Mix lemon juice, agar paste, 1/4 cup grapeseed oil, 1/4 cup agave.
        Seriously, mini food processor = best kitchen device ever.
        Meanwhile bake crust at 350 for 15 minutes:
        (1.5 cups almond meal, 2 Tbsp. grapseed oil, 1Tbsp. agave, 1 Tbsp. vanilla, salt to taste)
        Pour topping over the baking crust. Continue baking for 15 minutes then remove.
        Allow to cool and store in the refrigerator.
        And they were so good that I forgot to take an “After” picture before they were all gone! Trust me, they’re delicious!! Or just invite me to a summer cookout and I’ll bring you a batch myself 🙂
        Here’s to a fun, safe, and relaxing summer! May your cookouts be filled with laughter, friendship, and delicious/you-safe foods. Anxiety, stress, and ants just don’t deserve a place at the table 🙂
        This is what a summer BBQ is all about: friendship, laughter, and joy:-)

        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 Newly-Diagnosed, Tips and Tricks

        Once Upon A Time…

        …I was an accountant.

        Yes, as many of you know, though I am a teacher, I didn’t follow the most traditional path to get here. See, I started out as an accounting major at Villanova University. I was a student at a business school which is consistently ranked in the top 20 by BusinessWeek magazine. I followed the typical path of a Villanova accounting student…I worked hard, I earned an internship with one of the “Big 4” for the summer after my junior year, and before I even sat down in my first class as a senior, I already had a contract in hand for a lucrative, full-time position in the audit department at that same firm. However, after a long, drawn-out year of life chats, debate, discussions, deliberations, prayers, and discernment, I made a decision that to this day still makes some people shake their heads: for the first time, I ignored the outcome of my weighted-average pro/con Excel spreadsheet (yes I had a template for that…you can laugh) and decided to follow my heart instead. I walked away from a “dream” job, a hefty paycheck, and a comfortable start to post-collegiate life in downtown Philadelphia…and I became an elementary school teacher instead. And not just any elementary school, but one of the most amazing, challenging, and life-altering schools in the heart of our nation’s capital. 6 years have passed and I am still a teacher…though now outside Baltimore, with no CPA but an M.Ed. under my belt, and I can honestly say that I have not once looked back with regret or second thoughts about my decision. While the financial cushion would certainly be a welcome gift, I wouldn’t trade the lessons, experiences, and blessings of the past 6 years for all the money, corporate meals, and frequent flyer miles in the world.

        Spring 2008: My last “official” business function…with the University President of course 🙂 

        That being said, I can also say without hesitation that I do not have an ounce of regret about my course of study during my college years either. People often ask if I wish I could go back and not spend four years filling my brain with knowledge of balance sheets, cashflow, GAAP, PP&E, COSO, SOX, and countless other acronyms which are now gathering dust in a back corner of my brain. My answer to that is a resounding no. Partially because I firmly believe that every single life experience: good, bad, or indifferent, makes you the person you are…but also because those 4 years taught me so much useful, practical information. I have a profound understanding of what it takes to run a small business, a large corporation, a Catholic parish (that’s right, my course of study culminated in a 90-page thesis project exploring the internal controls and financial structure of the Catholic church, with an emphasis on the parish level); but most of all, it’s because once a year I have to return to that accountant-self…and I’m so grateful I sat through all those classes.

        The culmination of my unique course of study…
               We love income tax finals!!

        That’s right…it’s tax season.

        It’s that time of year where I get to brush off my Judy’s 10-key, dust off the cobwebs which have gathered in that back corner of my brain, and file my taxes. In my first 2 years out of college, I was the personal accountant to my fellow ACE roommates…and even my first year in Baltimore I had a few “clients” who paid me in Starbucks gift cards to file their returns. Then my health issues set in and derailed my plans to also have my own “I’m not a CPA so I’ll charge you less to file simple tax returns” side business; however, as with so many other things: my health issues opened up a whole new world for me: this time it was tax deductions. So, my fellow food-allergy friends (or any kind of health ailment really), here are some little-known tips that can save you a pretty penny. It’s probably a little late for your 2013 returns since you didn’t know to save all your receipts…but 2014 is a new tax year and we’re only 24 days in…start stockpiling those receipts now 🙂

        Health-related tax deductions:

        • Gluten-free food deduction: Yep, you read that correctly. After a year of reaching deep into those pockets, shelling out $5 to $6 for a loaf of bread while your wheat-flour consuming friends were piling the $1 loaves of Wonder bread into their carts, you finally catch a break. Admittedly, it’s a small one…but at this point, I’ll take whatever I can get. Now, before you get too excited, you can’t deduct the total amount of your loaf BUT you can deduct the DIFFERENCE between what you paid for gluten-free bread compared to the cost of the regular counterpart.
          • Pros: 
            • It works for all gluten-free foods that have a “regular” (i.e.gluten-filled) counterpart. For example, gluten-free pizza vs. regular pizza. It also works for any gluten-free item that is deemed essential but has no counterpart. The most common example is xanthan gum. You’ll never, and I mean never, have to use that in regular baking but it’s a key ingredient in any gluten-free baked good SO the full amount of your xanthan gum purchase is tax-deductible. Of course, 1 $12 jar of that will probably last you a good 2 or 3 years so it’s not a deduction that shows up often (unless you bake as much as I do).
            • This deduction also includes mileage ($0.24 each!) for the extra distance you have to travel to your “special” grocery store to get those items you just can’t find at the local Safeway or Giant.
            • Last but not least, you can also deduct shipping/postage costs for any and all gluten-free items you ordered and had shipped to your home.
          • Challenges: 
            • You must have an official doctor’s document confirming your diagnosis of celiac disease. I know, I know. Gluten-intolerant friends, begin the rant now. This stipulation was put in place to prevent people on the “I’m going gluten-free because it’s in and trendy” plan from taking advantage of this deduction…but in the process of doing so, they’re hurting an awful lot of people in that gray “I can’t officially diagnose you with celiac because…” area. Talk to your doctor…I don’t know what else to say. Except maybe, “Dear IRS, please hire Katie”.
            • Paperwork. I hear you loud and clear, “Katie, I’m lucky I don’t lose my chapstick by the end of a week, you think I can keep track of receipts for a whole year!”. Trust me, I know. And honestly for some people, this deduction is more work than they’re willing to put forth and that’s OK. I just believe in informed decisionmaking (I mean, need I remind you: weighted-average pro/con spreadsheet??) so here is your information. Decide what works for you. And just to give you a little boost, here is an Excel Spreadsheet you can use. Yes, it’s for Canada…but it’s provided by TurboTax and it’s the one I use…same columns necessary in the US..just easier in Excel than a PDF. Now all you need is a box to throw all your receipts in (just in case the dreaded auditors call 🙂 and you’re set! 
        • Medical Expenses: Ah yes, just one look at my tax returns from each year and you can pinpoint which years were health struggles for me. There’s no nice way to say it: being sick is EXPENSIVE. Well, I guess really it’s being healthy that’s expensive…but you get the point. I am blessed to have decent medical insurance so I’m luckier than so many; however, even with that, the out-of-pocket expenses for co-pays, prescriptions, labwork, ER visits, etc. were enough to make my jaw hit the floor. I punched everything into my calculator 3 times to be certain…and then took on 2 part-time jobs. The good news (if one can call it good to be ill) is that all of these out-of-pocket expenses are deductible. Well, sort of.
          • Be careful!!:  You can only deduct these medical expenses IF they exceed 10% of your AGI (Adjusted Gross Income) for the year. It was just increased to 10% this year from 7.5% so even if you already knew about it, make sure you still qualify this year. It’s one of those odd moments where your expenses surpass a certain threshold and you find yourself holding your breath, waiting to see if they’ll add up to just a little more so you qualify. The cruel irony of the IRS…
          • Don’t forget!!: This includes ALL medical, prescription, and dental expenses. (Yes, late-diagnosed celiacs, I’m talking to you. I know all those years of misdiagnosis eroded your enamel and those poor pearly whites have been paying the price…but hopefully now your bank account won’t have to!) This also includes PARKING at all doctor and hospital visits. I always want to say “Why even put the 0-30 minutes FREE category on the sign? What doctor is going to get me in and out and back out of the garage in under 30 minutes? Just take my $3”. Of course, this does mean you need to save all of those little stubs. Every single one. Same goes for tolls to get to your various treatments and appointments. And there’s a standard mileage deduction as well if you have to travel for your care. Again, lots of paperwork…but definitely worth it for some people!
          • So I leave this on a good note: This also includes medical conferences!! For example, you attend a fantastic food allergy conference to learn more about your new life, taste delicious “you-safe” samples, feel like a “normal” person again for a few hours…AND it’s tax-deductible!! Just the cost of your entry and your transportation to get there. Not your lodging or food while you’re there…but really, let’s not get greedy. I’ll take admission and transportation any day  🙂
        Now some deductions that apply to anyone…but often get overlooked:
        • State Income Taxes Paid OR State Sales Tax Paid: This one always shocks people…but think about it. Those lucky Delawareans don’t pay sales tax all year and those of you in Arizona and Louisiana are coughing up nearly 9% at the register. Floridians don’t lose a cent of their income to the state government while those of you soaking in the California sun are losing 13% of your income in each check. A lot of things in life aren’t fair…but even that is a bit of a stretch as far as the federal government is concerned. So if you itemize your deductions, you can deduct the higher of the two: either the state income taxes you paid this year or the total sales tax you paid to the state. Of course that one requires, you guessed it, every single receipt from the year. So most likely that one will only prove worthwhile if you made some major purchases this year…but then again, you never know. Some people really love to shop 🙂
        • Job-Searching Deductions: Searching for a new job is never an easy thing to do…and in this day and age, it seems like people are going through jobs like I go through aluminum foil: absurdly fast. Any career counseling, costs of resume printing and mailing, travel expenses to interviews, etc. are all deductible. Of course, as with everything else, there are stipulations. This does NOT apply to the search for your FIRST job, only subsequent job changes. Also, this job switch must be within the same field…so no deductions for a teacher turned baker in my future 😦 Finally, your costs must exceed 2% of your AGI to be deemed deductible. The great news: this deduction applies whether you were successful in finding employment or not! The bad news: 2% of your AGI is probably a big number to be spending on job searching…
        So if you’re trading in your corner office for this corner “office”, no tax deduction for you: SAME FIELD ONLY!
        • Education/Student Loan Deductions: There are a variety of education credits and deductions. Most people know about the deduction for student loan interest but many people forget that there is a Lifetime Learning credit for any post-collegiate education (i.e. grad school classes) REGARDLESS of whether it’s a degree program or not. (So that free-lance poetry class you signed up for last year: qualifies! Even if you have no plans to earn a Masters in Creative Writing.) There are several stipulations of course…but too many to explain. Just go here.
        There are so many more at the IRS site as well, especially if you’re fortunate enough to be a recent homeowner! But for now I’ll stop. I’m sure I’ve overwhelmed you by this point; in fact, I’m a little surprised if anyone made it this far. High-five to you.
        Now get out those W-2s, sharpen those pencils, and get excited to file your taxes!! Or at least get excited for a new tax year. Say it with me now: I will be organized and save all my receipts this year. You’re only behind by 24 days, you can catch up 😉 
        Happy New (Tax) Year…and Happy Saving!!
        You  know what they say: “Once a Villanova accountant, always a Villanova accountant.”
         I mean I do still have the hat. And the mug 🙂