Posted in Uncategorized

Why I Almost Stopped Blogging…and Why I’m Back

Hello, friends. You have probably noticed that my blogging has been pretty sporadic over the last few years. For most of that time, it was simply a matter of being too busy. When you get married, move to a new city, start a new job, and have a baby all in the span of 14 months, life gets a little crazy. Then in the 2 years and 5 months since our son was born, balancing mom life with blogging monthly for the Boston Moms Blog and working part-time on Saturdays just didn’t allow much time for writing, researching, taste-testing, etc.

However, I have to be honest. For almost a year now, it hasn’t been so much a lack of time, but more of a lack of motivation on my part, which kept me from writing.

Let me explain. When I first started this blog 6 years ago, it was mainly because I was feeling overwhelmed and lost and I needed an outlet. Plus, as a busy teacher who was also dealing with fatigue, brain fog, and all the other symptoms that were still working themselves out due to new diagnoses, it was an easy way to keep friends and family updated without explaining everything over and over again on a phone call. Within a few weeks though, I received so many kind emails and messages from people who were reading the blog- some of course were just friends of mine without any food issues, but many were from people who had been sent the link by friends of mine and were so grateful to share my experience.

Before long, I felt like I was part of this community of people who knew exactly how I felt and what my new life looked like- even if we lived far apart and never actually met in real life (the wonders of technology).

And for almost 5 years, that feeling continued to grow. I loved writing, I loved feeling like a part of a virtual community, and I loved that my story could help someone feel less alone. Then about a year ago, that started to change. I attended a local Expo I had been a part of several times before and was surprised to feel a dramatic shift. First of all, we were no longer referred to as bloggers, now we had a new name: influencers. I’ll be honest- I wasn’t a fan of that term. I soon realized the change was necessary though, because I learned that less than half of us there actually had blogs. Apparently everyone just sticks with social media, primarily Instagram.

Now don’t get me wrong, here. I LOVE Instagram. I think it is a great way to share quick tips about new products, gluten-free restaurants, etc. that don’t warrant an entire blogpost.

What concerns me is the shift this change has created in quality of content. On Instagram, it matters how many followers you have or how many likes you can get from a certain post. Even certain companies now send an “application” if you’re interested in trying some new products which requires you to report how many followers you have. Now I have a business background, of course this makes sense from a marketing perspective.

What worries me is that suddenly people care more about the appearance of their Instagram posts than the actual content- and for someone who is gluten-free by necessity, this can be dangerous.

I have seen gluten-free accounts post pictures of products or restaurants that I personally would NEVER trust. For someone who is new to the gluten-free world, it can be easy to trust someone else who claims it is safe (and they have a thousand followers, so it must be safe, right??) Along with that, I’ve seen a shift at Expos I’ve attended. Where I used to feel like all the bloggers banded together and became friends at these events, there seems to be an increased sense of competition now that we’re “influencers”. Let me clear, this isn’t true of everyone I’ve encountered- but it is definitely a shift I have noticed.So I left that Expo a year ago thinking that I needed a break….and I took one. I logged in from time to time and even started a few posts here and there, but my heart just wasn’t in it. So I stopped.

I took time away. I immersed myself in all things Elmo and Thomas the Train (mom of a 2-year-old here) and paid less attention to new products in the gluten-free world. And I don’t regret it at all.

Of course that leads to the big question: what brought me back? (Well, I guess the first question is, are you back??)

Yes, I am Back.

I won’t promise daily postings, or even weekly content at that…but I do have a number of posts in the works and lots of content in the pipeline that I am excited to share. And of course, I’m excited to share some insight into being a gluten-free mom to a non-gluten-free toddler (who is not careful with crumbs yet).

What brought me back?

This one could take days to answer so I’ll leave it with 2 reasons for now. First, I realized that it doesn’t matter if the name changed or even the culture changed among the bloggers-turned-influencers. My mission hasn’t changed. I can still share my experiences in my own way and if I can help just one person with my blog or posts, that’s all that matters to me. I don’t care how many followers or likes I have- I never cared about that in the first place – so I won’t let this new number-focused culture change that.

Second, we lost a family member this summer. I could write pages and pages about the person that he was, what he meant to me, and how he made the world a better place- but I am not in a place where I could do that yet. What I will share is that I used to joke with him that he was my main (and often only) source of unpaid publicity. I lost count of how many times he would text me to let me know that he shared my blog with a friend (or sometimes just someone he met in passing) who was dealing with food allergies/intolerances. I used to wonder how he managed to befriend so many people with food issues, but I realize now that it was more that he simply took the time that most of us don’t to talk to people and really get to know them- even if it was just someone he happened to sit next to on a bus. I’ve received messages from a few of those people he sent my way- a few before he died and a few since- that reaffirmed for me the rare person that he was. He not only took the time to learn about each person he met, but he also tried to do whatever he could to make their life just a little bit easier- even if it was as simple as sharing his sister-in-law’s blog.

So here I am. I want to be a trustworthy voice in the midst of a gluten-free world that is growing more and more confusing by the day. I want to be a source of comfort and hope for someone at the beginning of his/her gluten-free/dairy-free/(insert food here)-free life. I want to continue to build community in the Celiac and food intolerant communities. And if I can do that for just one person, that’s all the “influencer” status I need.

Posted in Boston Recommendations, Gluten-Free/Dairy-Free Life, Uncategorized

Nourished Festival!

I have to be honest: when I first heard about the changes coming to one of my favorite events of the year, I was less than thrilled. (Full disclosure: I rolled my eyes as I read the email.) After all, I’m only human.

I’m a human who cannot eat the tiniest crumb of gluten or casein without sending my immune system into absolute chaos. So as I’ve mentioned in the past, I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with people who adopt “fad diets” or even “fad lifetsyles”.

As someone who cannot enjoy the occasional cupcake or slice of bread, it can be frustrating to understand why a person who is fully capable of doing so makes the choice to give up such treats willingly. So when I first saw that the festival had somewhat rebranded to include paleo and keto lifestyle choices, I wasn’t sure I even wanted to go back. (I’m telling you- jealousy can turn you into an irrational person.)

However, once I came back to the computer and actually read through the details and description, I realized I was hasty in my judgment. (I guess maybe we’re just a little possessive of the things we love sometimes so we’re initially resistant to change.)

First of all everything at the Expo is still gluten-free (I was worried about that one!) but there are additional categories for nut-free, paleo, keto, and plant-based diets.

Though paleo, keto, and plant-based diets are sometimes a choice, the reality is that many people do require these diets for their health. And even for people who don’t officially require these diets, if someone feels better following a certain diet, then I should be there cheering them on toward health and happiness- not harboring a grudge.

So now that I am back to my original level of excitement for this upcoming event: here are the details you need to know.

What: Nourished Festival

Where? DCU Center– Worcester, MA

When? Saturday July 20th and Sunday July 21st 10 AM – 3 PM

Why?

More than 70 vendors (and counting!) showcasing their gluten-free products, providing samples, and coupons, of course!

Designated booths for products that are also nut-free, paleo, keto, or plant-based

5 classes related to gluten-free cooking, adapting to a keto/paleo lifestyle, and entertaining with a variety of food allergies in mind

Sign me up!

If this sounds like a weekend you don’t want to miss, come join me! Tickets are available here. ($15 for a one-day pass, or $20 for the weekend) BUT I have some tickets to give away so send me a message through the “Contact Me” link and tell me which vendor you are most excited to see at the Expo for your chance to win free tickets!

I hope to see you there!!

Some of my haul from the last Expo!

Posted in Uncategorized

A New Beginning…

Hello friends,

I know I disappeared for quite some time- it turns out that raising an infant (now toddler) when you don’t live near family doesn’t leave much time for writing, experimenting with recipes, researching new products, or (let’s be honest) sleeping. A few months ago I realized that between raising our little guy, working part-time, contributing to the local moms blog, and traveling all over to see family and friends, I was feeling overwhelmed. I made the decision to take a step back and put this blog on hold so I could soak up my time with our son without that nagging feeling that I should be doing something else (like writing).

That being said, over the past few weeks I have had a few conversations and experiences which made it pretty clear to me that it is time to write again. And so here we are.

You will notice a few changes:

  • Most notably… the new website! After some conversations with readers and a few companies who sent products for me to try, it became clear that it is easier to have a web address that matched the blog name so I’m trying it this way- for a year anyway 🙂 It is still a work in progress so please be patient as I get all the kinks worked out.
  • Though I will post on the blog regularly, I will have more frequent posts on my Instagram page. Sometimes a new product find is awesome, but doesn’t necessarily warrant a whole blogpost, so if you’re not already following @cupofcoffeewithkatie on Instagram, you can use the link on the right (or below if you’re on a tablet/mobile device) to do so.
  • There will be more resources for Catholics who are diagnosed with Celiac disease or gluten intolerance. This has been a topic close to my heart for some time now, and honestly one of the driving forces behind my decision to start writing again.

Those will be the most noticeable differences to begin with, but we’ll see what happens as the blog continues to evolve. For now, bookmark this new page and welcome back . I can’t wait to pick up where we left off 🙂

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Posted in Uncategorized

It’s Super Bowl Time!

Here it is: Super Bowl Sunday! Granted, the match-up this year has me wishing it were possible for neither team to win. From what I’ve heard, I don’t think Bill Belichick or Pete Carroll are the most upstanding of individuals. Though I suppose I should just offer forgiveness and focus on the accomplishment of all the players who have worked so hard for this accomplishment, I’ll admit it’s not easy. So what will I do instead? Focus on the fun! Come 6:30, I’ll be cuddled up on my couch with my Katie-safe foods and my glue gun. My plan is to watch the commercials and then work on my latest craft endeavor during the actual football portion of the evening. Then I’ll probably clip some coupons and plan some lessons….all in all, it’s shaping up to be a great evening. At least in my book. 🙂

Since I feel like last year’s post pretty much summed up my thoughts on Super Bowl Sunday, and amazingly the Katie-safe foods from last year remain the same, you can just click here to take a trip back in time one year and read. Also, one addition to the food list for tonight:  pizza!! It’s so good!!!  Expensive, yes, but it’s Super Bowl Sunday, you’re allowed to splurge…even in the Year of Fiscal Responsibility.

Now get to that grocery store before it gets too crazy. Though it may be too late for that, so in that case just make the best of it and befriend some other last-minute shoppers in line!

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 Pennsylvania Recommendations, Uncategorized

Love Shout-Out #5: Sweet Freedom

It may only be 12 simple letters but trust me these two words used in conjunction could not mean more to me. Sweet Freedom is a place (though actually now it’s 3 different locations) but it’s so much more than that; it’s an experience, it’s an escape, and it’s giving Hershey, PA quite a run for its money in my “Happiest Place in Pennsylvania” category. Sweet Freedom is a bakery that I stumbled upon completely by lucky accident and my life has never been the same. It’s the kind of place that I hope to one day open…but for now the presence of such a place in my world is more than enough to put a smile on this face.

It was June 2011. I had just finished the longest spring semester of my life as my health was most accurately described as “in shambles”. I had been encouraged to try eliminating gluten (only to be forced to eat it again a few weeks later in preparation for my endoscopy…the irony of this crazy condition) and I was feeling well enough to travel to Philadelphia to attend the ISTE (International Society of Technology in Education) conference. My school offered me the opportunity to attend and since it was conveniently located within walking distance from my college roommates’ apartment, I readily accepted for a weeklong excuse to hang out with my best friends…and learn about implementing technology in the classroom of course. (Side note: I did actually learn A LOT. Teacher friends, it’s a great conference if you can go! AND it’s back in Philly next summer!) One afternoon when I finished with my sessions, I googled “gluten free near Pennsylvania Convention Center” (note: this was in my pre-smartphone/pre-FindMeGlutenFree app days) and found a website for this place called Sweet Freedom. It was located on South Street, about 2 miles from the apartment where I was staying so I set out in the sweltering heat in pursuit of what I hoped would be a delicious gluten-free treat. If only I knew what was in store, the sweaty walk would not have seemed nearly as grueling.
I walked into the store and was met with this sign. 
Yes, everything 🙂
Granted at the time, none of that meant much to me aside from the gluten part. I ordered some cookies and cupcakes and headed for “home” with my treats. Now one mistake I made on this initial venture was that I didn’t consider the fact that even the most delicious baked goods are no match for the sweltering heat of Philadelphia streets so my treats were in quite a different state by time I settled in to try them at my friends’ apartment that night. Regardless, I could tell I had found something special. 
A few short weeks later, I was in back in Philadelphia to stand beside another college friend as she married the love of her life in the Villanova church and I stopped at Sweet Freedom on my way so I could pick up a gluten-free cupcake to enjoy in lieu of cake at the reception (I had been officially diagnosed at this point). I did…it was legendary. Oh, and of course I was so excited that I talked the owner’s ear off and somewhere in there we decided she was going to make my future wedding cake. Nearly a year later, I returned to Philly to surprise one of my old roommates on her Match Day at medical school. Her mom knew about my plan and being the overwhelmingly generous person that she is, she ordered cupcakes from Sweet Freedom just so I would be able to participate in the festivities. Now keep in mind up to this point, gluten was still my only nemesis.
Cupcake/Ice Cream Cookie Sandwich Sampler…they taste as delicious as they look 🙂
Fast forward to last spring (2013). I had recently learned that casein (AKA dairy) was also an enemy and I was finally feeling well enough to venture outside of the Baltimore county limits…which I hadn’t done since my unsuccessful attempt at Easter in the Poconos. I traveled to Philly one warm Saturday morning in May  to cheer on several of my college friends who were participating in the Broad Street Run. Now Sweet Freedom is conveniently located just off Broad Street so I stopped there first for a morning treat…and that’s when my world was irrevocably changed. Suddenly the glaring casein-free sign in the store window filled my heart with gladness in a way I never dreamed simple words could. After clarifying that in fact EVERY item met this qualification, I started ordering. Then came the biggest moment of all: THE COFFEE MENU. Now you know I love coffee…but what you probably don’t know if you weren’t acquainted with me before 2011 is that I LOVE coffee drinks even more. Lattes and mochas still populate my dreams on a semi-regular basis. However my new dairy restriction, coupled with the even more recent soy exclusion, had rendered those drinks non-existent in my life. However, here on the sign I saw all of these listed. When I questioned these offerings, I was thrilled to learn that Sweet Freedom did something I had yet to find elsewhere: they make all their mixed coffee drinks with coconut-milk-based creamer. What’s even better? They’ve never used anything but that so there is 0% chance of cross contamination in the steamer, steamer cup, etc. You bet your bottom dollar I ordered a mocha…and it quickly became the best day I’d had in months. Maybe even longer 🙂 And yes, I did tear myself away in enough time to catch a glimpse of the runners I came to cheer for and even met them at the finish line for smiles, hugs, and a few photos. Then I even had time to squeeze in the tail end of another friend’s Ultimate Frisbee game nearby too. All in all, it was an incredible day.
Yes, I even made a personalized “Defeat Broad Street” shirt for the occasion!
In the time since, Sweet Freedom has come to mean so much to this poor, immune-confused girl. It is one of the few places where I feel completely safe and completely happy. Of course I don’t get up to Philly often enough for my liking but every time I do, the joy is enough to sustain me until I get to return again. Granted, I should also clarify that these visits always entail some much-needed face time with dear friends who still live there…so I guess my opinion is more than a little biased. However, I will admit I’ve pondered driving up just for the treats when my friends aren’t even there…though I can’t say I’ve actually done it. I mean, Sweet Freedom delivers to Baltimore…need I say more??
That’s right…they deliver. And special order.
 (hint, hint if you have allergy-ridden friends!!)
Just this past Friday I was lucky enough to return to this little corner of South Street. It was a perfect summer morning AND I got to spend several hours sitting outside the bakery with not 1, but BOTH of those college roommates I was visiting back in 2011 when I first stumbled upon this little gem. We’ll call them the Saint with a Stethoscope (she’s a doctor) and the Saint with the Passport (she’s almost never in the country). The three of us hadn’t been together in one place in a year and let me tell you there’s nothing better than spending a warm summer morning catching up on life and laughter with 2 of your best friends. EXCEPT DOING THAT WHILE EATING A DONUT!!! That’s right…I can eat donuts there. I still haven’t quite wrapped my mind around it yet either. We sipped coffee, enjoyed delicious Katie-safe treats, made a new canine friend (well 2/3 of us did), discussed fellowships, a year in Rwanda , a new job in a castle, and a variety of other life events which are quickly becoming all too real …just a typical Philly Friday with friends, right?? 🙂
Best. Breakfast. Ever.
In conclusion, whether you have food allergies or not, add Sweet Freedom to your list of places to visit. (I don’t really believe in the idea of a bucket list because I think it suggests that you have this endless expanse of time in which to accomplish a given number of things; instead I think it’s better to have a running list of all the things you’ve already accomplished and then focus all your energy and passion on just 1 or 2 new goals you can add to the list in the short-term. For me, that’s a lot better than having a long list of plans and assuming you’ll have all the time in the world to get to them “someday”. Someday isn’t promised to anyone…only today). That being said, if you’re anywhere near I-95, start driving and don’t stop until you get to Sweet Freedom. Though I should clarify: don’t do that until tomorrow…they’re closed on Mondays. AND there are now 3 locations! The original store on South Street is the only one I’ve visited but they also have locations in nearby Collingswood, NJ and most recently, on Lancaster Ave. just a few short blocks from one of my other Top-5-Pennsylvania locations: Villanova University. As if I needed more reasons to get excited for trips back to campus.
Now get moving. And if you’ll pass Baltimore on your way there, please let me know. I promise I’m a great road trip companion 🙂
This could not be more true 🙂
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 http://www.frenchbydesignblog.com/

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
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!


Frosting:
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 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 Uncategorized

If I Could Turn Back Time…

Yep, I’m sorry: chances are Cher is now stuck in your head. Don’t worry, it’s a great background theme for the remainder of this post 🙂

Last weekend I had a big moment in my allergy journey. I arrived at a social event with my own snacks, situated my bag in a corner of the kitchen, and started filling a plate with my veggies, hummus, and chips before heading into the other room to join in the festivities. There, not only did most guests not even notice since my plate looked oddly similar to theirs (minus the croissant sandwiches of course) but one person happened to walk into the kitchen as I was refilling my plate later and she said something that nearly brought a tear to my eye, “Let me guess: food allergies? Gluten? I have two friends who do the same thing”. I smiled an appreciative grin and responded with affirmation but added in my dairy, soy, and corn issues and she just shook her head.We talked for a few minutes about her friends and the trials and tribulations of people with food issues…and then she asked me an interesting question. She said: “If you could go back in time for just one day to before you had food issues, what would you eat?”. Well you might as well ask a 5-year-old what they would choose in a toy store if money were no obstacle. But as I thought about the answer to her question, I realized that it’s something I don’t often think about…or really don’t let myself think about anymore. Of course, after her prompting, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Here is what I think:

I would wake up and eat a bagel sandwich. A real one from a bagel store…not one of those chains like Dunkin Donuts…but an authentic bagel. It would be sausage and egg on an everything bagel. No cheese, I never liked that on my sandwiches anyway. I’d attend 8:30 mass and I would stroll in the door at 8:28 and slide right into my pew. I would receive the Eucharist in the regular line at the regular time and wouldn’t be a burden to a priest or a spectacle to my fellow parishioners. Then I’d stop at Dunkin Donuts and get the largest size coffee they have filled with creamer and pumpkin syrup. Of course, if they didn’t have that I’d settle for cream and sugar. I’d head back to school to teach my morning classes and then take a trip at lunchtime to anywhere that served giant, warm soft pretzels and crab dip. That would be lunch. I’d return to school, finish out the afternoon and eat one of the chocolate chip cookies left in the faculty room by a generous parent. And I’d even do it without Purell-ing first (I know, I know: living on the edge). I’d leave school and head straight for Starbucks where I’d order a grande mocha with 2% milk, no whip…and I’d savor every sip. I’d apply chapstick without obsessively reading the ingredient list and I might even treat myself to a manicure (since that’s forever off the table). Then I’d go out for pizza with friends. Real pizza. With delicious, fluffy crust and lots of cheese. We’d finish our pizza and I’d accept a piece of gum from a friend without asking to see the package first. We’d head to the movies where I’d order a giant bag of popcorn…or better yet, I’d bring my own bag of kettle corn. In a perfect world, I’d go for a stroll after the movie with a potential “co-pilot”. (I mean if we’re living in a dream world here, why not?? :-)) He’d order ice cream and I’d just ask for a piece of his waffle cone (ice cream and I were never the best of friends even in the best of times) and we would enjoy a walk in which I wouldn’t have to inquire about the brand of chapstick in his pocket or the foods he’d chosen to consume in the past 2 hours. I’d arrive home and brush my teeth without thinking about the brand of toothpaste in the cabinet. I’d put on lotion without scrutinizing for hydrolyzed wheat protein. I’d settle into bed with a contented smile and say a prayer of thanksgiving for an absolutely perfect day.

Unfortunately, reality is nothing like my dream day…though let’s be honest, anyone who consumed all of those things in a single day would be violently ill, celiac/food intolerant or not! Yes, I don’t like to admit it but I have my bitter days. I have days when I find myself craving the life I once knew…when every item in the grocery store was mine for the tasting and every restaurant posed a new, exciting adventure rather than a new terrifying encounter. But alas, life is what it is now and I can either dream wistfully about the past or live gratefully in the present. Those of you without food allergies might be thinking this all sounds a little crazy, but it’s true: none of the things in the paragraph above are things I can do anymore. Minus the teaching and the prayer of thanksgiving. And those of you with food issues are probably thinking “Great, Katie, I come to you for encouragement and advice and this is what I get??” Well, to you I say don’t worry, I’m getting there.

So how can I possibly be grateful for celiac and my autoimmune trifecta when it’s taken away all of those things? I’ll be honest and say that some days I’m not. However, when I sit down and think about it, I know that I am for many reasons: because I’m not filling my body with processed chemicals all day long; because my insulin resistance has improved enough that my blood sugar drops are now few and far between; because the pages of my planner are no longer filled with doctor appointments and lab visits; because I can make plans for something months ahead and not worry that I won’t feel well enough to go by then; and most of all, because of something one of my kids said today. The tornado watch forced us inside for recess and at one point in a conversation, he laughed and said, “Miss Burke, you are just so funny this year”. To which I responded (somewhat sarcastically), “Just this year?” (remember we moved up together so I had these same kids last school year). He immediately answered, “Well, I mean you were funny sometimes but you were always so tired last year. Or leaving to get more bloodwork. This year you have so much energy all the time. Must be the coffee”. At which point someone else captured his attention and he skipped off. However, what he said stuck with me…just as the question above did last weekend.

So in short, yes, my life has drastically changed in the past 3 years…but even in just the past year. And sometimes I do miss my “old life” so much that it almost hurts. However, I know that my new life is a much happier, richer, and (most importantly) healthier one. So to those of you who don’t have any restrictions, I say splurge and treat yourself every once in awhile. And to all of you who are dealing with food restrictions, both new and old, remember you’re never alone. We’re all struggling together…but it’s ALWAYS worth it in the end.

And if you need something to make you feel better about being an adult with these issues, watch this.  2026: I believe in you 🙂

Posted in Uncategorized

The Million-Dollar Question…

“But what happens if you just cheat?” 
I’d say that question has officially been added to my  “If I only had $1 for every time I was asked this question, I wouldn’t have to work 3 jobs to get by…” list. (I’ll leave you to guess what the other 2 questions are on that list!) One of my caring students I mentioned in my Christmas post posed the question: “Miss Burke, what if on Christmas you just said ‘Oh forget it’ and ate a bagel?”
Yes, I know it’s a hard concept to understand why this would never even enter my mind as within the realm of possibility. I know why non-celiacs don’t get it. I mean if someone has an anaphylactic allergy, the answer is obvious. No one questions someone with a nut allergy…clearly staying alive is reason enough to avoid them. But what about those of us with the autoimmune food illnesses? We’re all too often misunderstood and confusion-inducing. And though that at times can be infuriating, I also can say I’ve reached a point where I’m empathetic enough to understand. It’s because there is no one answer. There is no single reaction that is the same across the board for all celiac sufferers…or food-intolerant friends.  Most of all, it’s because there is no way you can possibly imagine how it feels unless you’ve lived it…and once you have, there is no way you can possibly imagine ever bringing that upon yourself. So today I’ll do my best to answer the question I’ve mostly shrugged off or eluded until now. And I’ll do it in the least graphic way  I can 🙂
As I mentioned earlier, every celiac sufferer has a different reaction. Some do just have a strictly gastrointestinal reaction…but contrary to popular belief, that percentage is small. I certainly do not fall in that category. I’ll even admit that if I knew all that would happen if I ate gluten would be a day spent in the bathroom, I might be tempted once in awhile too. But it’s so much worse than that. I will say there are have been 4 distinct times since my diagnosis when I was “glutened” so severely that it resulted in 30 minutes or so of me face-to-face with the toilet bowl. (I should point out 3 of those 4 times were at restaurants with gluten-free menus…you see why eating out can be anxiety-inducing!) And trust me, it was beyond unpleasant…if you’ve ever had that kind of flu where it seems your stomach is squeezing itself completely dry of any substance you had in it, well that gives you an idea of how this is. Effective I suppose in ridding my body of what it deems to be poison. And, crazy as it sounds, I think if I had to choose a reaction, this would be my first-choice…because the muscular ache in my stomach that lasts a few days and the accompanying tiredness is nothing compared to what happens when those gluten or casein proteins have an opportunity to stick around in my body and wreak havoc for days on end.
Yes, I’d almost argue that those trace amounts of gluten, casein, etc. which find their way into my digestive tract are far worse than an outright piece of bread. It’s not enough to elicit a violent denial from my stomach…but more than enough to send me spiraling into a world I wouldn’t wish on anyone.
  •  First, there’s the tiredness. I wish there were another word for it though…because it’s not like any “tired” I’ve ever felt otherwise. It’s not the kind of tired you can power through or wage war against with caffeine or cold air. It’s a kind of exhaustion where you simply have to admit defeat. It seems physically impossible to sit up, let alone try to function as a human being. In the spring of 2010 (before my mystery symptoms were figured out), my principal literally found me asleep in our faculty room. And I didn’t even hear him come in. I’m not one who typically can nap anywhere but a bed or couch…but that spring, a hard round tabletop to rest my head was all I needed. I couldn’t make it through a day of teaching on my feet either. The stool became my lifeline…and sitting on the floor with my 2nd graders was no longer a behavior management tool but rather a survival mechanism.
  • Second, there’s the numbness and tingling. Of course now I know the clinical term: neuropathy. That’s right…just a little of one of those proteins and a day or two of phantom-feeling limbs is nearly guaranteed. Granted, it’s more manageable when you know what it is and what is causing it; when I didn’t, well terrifying doesn’t begin to describe that feeling. In fact that was the symptom which sent me to my first ER visit in 2010. When you’re a 24-year-old with a family history of brain tumors and suddenly you can’t feel your arm while teaching your 2nd graders, that’s cause for enough alarm to send an ambulance. And so it began…
  • Third, there’s the stomach “issues”. I don’t want to just refer to it as pain because everytime it’s different. Sometimes it’s downright pain, other times it’s puffiness and swelling, other times it’s  burning which results in acid reflux moreso than stomach discomfort. Whatever the form, the pain lingers…sometimes for a few days, sometimes more than a week…and it only worsens when you eat. Yet at the same time I feel like I’m STARVING…because I haven’t digested the food I ate that contained the culprit. Talk about your Catch-22…
  • Fourth, and to me probably the worst, are the mental symptoms. I know it sounds crazy but it’s true. Some experts call it brain fog, some call it gluten-brain, I call it downright misery. I literally feel like I’m losing my mind. And if my experience is even a fraction of what a mental illness feels like, I find it completely unacceptable that, as a society, we aren’t doing more to address it.  I feel anxious about things I know shouldn’t be worrisome. It’s like one side of my brain is talking to the other but neither one is listening. I feel sad…and again I wish there were another word for it because it’s more than that. It’s a feeling of despair and hopelessness, a sense that although this has happened before, that nothing will ever be all right with the world again. Sometimes I even cry. And for anyone who knows me well, tears and I are not things which have ever coexisted often. Other times I feel angry (another emotion with which I’m not well acquainted). I have a short temper and I want to snap at anyone or anything in my path. Again, not attributes most people would typically associate with my personality. And I’m still self-aware enough to know that too which makes it all the more frustrating. Vicious cycle…
  • Last but not least, there are the physical manifestations. Imagine your worst seasonal allergy symptoms magnified by 1000. My nasal passages start dripping, my throat starts to react, sometimes I break out in hives and other less than pleasant skin reactions. And that’s just the physical reactions visible to the naked eye. The thing about autoimmune disorders is that once you have one, they snowball if left untreated. Hence by the time I was diagnosed I had already developed a blood sugar problem caused by my body attacking my own insulin and I was borderline Hashimoto’s (a thyroid-related autoimmune condition)…which I still have to be tested for every 6 months. Unseen inflammation inside is wreaking more havoc than the symptoms on the outside for sure….
Since a picture is worth a 1000 words, this is me in June 2011…
    …barely making it through my brother’s graduation.
This is me in July 2011 (just 3.5 weeks later!) feeling alive and dancing the night away at a good friend’s wedding.
What a difference gluten makes…
SO in answer to the question: Why don’t I “cheat”? Well, after reading all that, would you really want to knowingly inflict that on yourself?
…Because I know what it feels like to reach the end of your rope…to be told it’s all in your head and that you’re crazy when you know that’s just not true…and to find your way back again.
…Because I know what it’s like to look at other 20-somethings in envy because they can do normal things like wake up, drive to work, go to the gym, and go out to dinner all in one day!
…Because I appreciate how good it feels to wake up with a clear head, proper balance, and a enthusiastic outlook on life.
…Because I watched the man I loved most in this world battle illness for 5 years. I’ll never know for sure if his maladies had any relationship to celiac, though my doctor remains adamant that there must have been.
…Because I had to say good-bye to that same man much too soon; but before I did, he taught me that you do whatever you can to add years to your life…but more importantly, to add life to your years.

So in answer to that student’s question: Why don’t I say “Just forget it”? 
Because I already lost more than a year of my life to gluten and if I can help it, it’s not stealing a single second more… 🙂