Gluten Free and Pregnant

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I have wanted to write my experience of being pregnant and gluten free for a while now because it was challenging, but completely manageable and I know there are many people who are going through what I went through nearly five months ago now. Every pregnancy symptom I experienced was normal and I did not have any complications. Teagan Adele was delivered 15 days over due via c-section and weighed 9.4 pounds. She is really healthy and continues to thrive!

Here are my “rules” for handling being pregnant – nausea and all.

  1. Let go of your expectations. I had cut out sugar and caffeine before finding out I was pregnant. These are great options, but the only thing that would help with nausea were lemon candies, Starbursts, Dum Dum Pops and other fruit-flavored candy. A small amount of caffeine helped me survive the constant migraines throughout my pregnancy. I didn’t deal with these symptoms through my first pregnancy, but each one is different and, no, I don’t think they were a result of having Celiac Disease.
  2. Stock up on your go-to food items. I ate a lot of Silk vanilla yogurt, Amy’s gluten free and dairy free mac and cheese, Yogi brand teas, watermelon, eggs, and oatmeal.
  3. Pay for the gluten free sandwich. I was trying to stay within a budget, but was seriously hungry all the time and if I missed my window of when I needed to eat it felt like I couldn’t catch up. Treat yourself to your favorite lunch because by taking care of yourself you are keeping your stress level down and it truly helps take care of your baby.
  4. You can still get glutened. This was the worst thing to deal with, but I accidentally glutened myself after eating a bowl of regular cereal – I don’t recommend buying a gluten version and gluten free version of the same cereal! I immediately got a migraine that lasted for three days and, although I can’t prove this, I think it lowered my immune system which caused me to catch the virus going around and lead to bronchitis. This was just plain miserable, but I felt so much better after resting for a few days and I learned to be much more careful around gluten.
  5. Be upfront with your doctor about having Celiac Disease. This was not an issue for me, but I was clear that it was a major concern. I found that any medicines I needed to take were gluten free and the shots and vaccines I had during the pregnancy were also gluten free. My one concern – that I thankfully didn’t have to deal with  – was whether my body would react with if I had to receive a blood transfusion from a person who did not have Celiac Disease. I still do not know this answer, but nurses and doctors confirmed that there was no gluten present in the RhoGam shot and whooping cough vaccine I had while pregnant.
  6. Make a plan for food when you are in the hospital. I wasn’t exactly sure whether or not there would be many gluten free options available – and who wants to accidentally get glutened after having a baby? – so I opted to bring in my own food. Other moms have spoken with a dietitian at the hospital to gather insight into the best food options available during your stay. This was a little tricky because I had to have food on-hand and a list available for my husband and Teagan finally came 15 days late. Yup, I had to do my “final” grocery shopping trip and cooking day twice. It was crazy, but I was so thankful for all the food my hubby brought – and the freshly picked strawberries my mom brought to the hospital. Having a baby in the summer time was great because there was so much fresh produce! I did order a few things from food service, such as the cherry chicken salad and it was completely safe. I also ordered a donut and muffin for my older daughter to munch on when she came to visit each day.
  7. Always say yes when people offer to make food for you, but proceed with caution. I loved when people brought me food after having the baby, but I used caution because of the ways that gluten is hidden in everything. There were a few times I tried some and didn’t feel the best, so I opted not to eat all of the food, but my husband and daughter devoured the meals. Yes, the rest of my family had to eat, so I welcomed regular gluten-filled meals too.
  8. You will cry over food. Mostly likely anyways and that’s okay! I broke down because I felt like I was starving and overwhelmed with how much cooking I had to do in order to keep up with my growing appetite. It’s okay – it’s really just the hormones and I’m certain that every pregnant woman cries for at least one food-related reason.
  9. I’m gluten free and so is my baby. Yup, Teagan is currently gluten free. She is almost five months old and I did give her some baby oatmeal (which contains gluten), but she seemed to get an upset tummy. I don’t know if this is because she can’t tolerate gluten or because her tummy is still immature, but I’m giving her more time before trying solids again. She was really fussy and just seemed to be uncomfortable. We won’t know for certain if she will have an issue with gluten or not, but we are proceeding cautiously and I will be making all of her baby food.

A special thank you to the Gluten Free Facebook group who submitted their experiences with staying gluten free while pregnant. What are your specific questions? Comment below and I will answer them (or reach out to a huge community who bring their own unique experiences).

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Gluten Free Grub: Third Coast

Third Coast Logo

I have been a huge fan of Third Coast products since I tried my first gluten free and dairy free chocolate chip cookie over a year ago. I would honestly prefer these cookies over traditional chocolate chip cookies I grew up with because they taste so good! The difference is all about how they approach baking. It’s all about chemistry – how ingredients react to each other and the flavors they create. Every product is gluten free, dairy free and doesn’t contain any preservatives. Over the past year I have tried many Third Coast products and each one has taken countless hours for them to perfect, but each bite tastes like perfection!

Here are some of my favorites that you will want to snatch up when you are in the Traverse City area.

Gluten Free Cheery Cherry Breakfast Cookie

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Gluten Free Cheery Cherry Breakfast Cookie

Each bite of this soft cookie is savory and simply delicious. It offers the perfect combination of dried cherries, chocolate and cookie. It’s a great option for a sweet breakfast treat with toasted nuts, oats, flax, and peanut butter besides dried cherries and chocolate. It’s hard to believe that it’s gluten free and dairy free, but it is. The only downside is that it disappears fast, so you will have to buy a few. Perfect choice with your favorite cup of coffee!

Gluten Free Italian Croutons

Italian Croutons
Gluten Free Italian Croutons

I bought my first bag of these from the prompting of another customer, thinking it was odd to buy croutons from a bakery at the farmer’s market. These are buttery (although dairy free) and the seasoning is amazing. They make any boring salad beyond tasteful and they were my go-to for a quick snack. The best part is that each crouton is small, so it doesn’t take a million bites to chew before getting to savor the taste and crunch. Yeah, I have never snacked on croutons, but I had to hide the bag to make it last. Purchase your own on Third Coast’s website.

Gluten Free Classic Chocolate Chip Cookie

Classic Chocolate Chip Cookies
Gluten Free Classic Chocolate Chip Cookies

The classic chocolate chip cookie is beyond tasteful. Each bite is delightful and it’s really hard to find a gluten free cookie that is soft, let alone dairy free and tasty. This is the ultimate chocolate chip cookie and it goes perfectly with a class of almond milk. Time to bring back cookies and milk. Purchase your own on the Third Coast’s website.

Gluten Free Pumpkin Donuts

Pumpkin Donuts
Gluten Free Pumpkin Donuts

The changing colors and crisp air makes me dream about donuts, so I finally had to find a gluten free pumpkin donut. I called Potter’s Bakery and was delighted to find out they carried many Third Coast products. I hesitated at buying a box of donuts, which is what was available to purchase, but I quickly got over that after my first bite into a maple-glazed pumpkin donut. The cinnamon spice donut was also amazing! They were soft and tasted like regular donuts. The only thing I would change would be cutting out some of the sugary glaze because it’s really sweet, probably just because I don’t eat as much sugar as most people. Check out the donut flavors available on Third Coast’s website.

Where to Buy Third Coast Products

Third Coast Bakery products have become widely popular in Traverse City and are available at so many great locations, including Oryana, Potter’s Bakery (Hull Street and 8th Street locations), Espresso Bay, Edson Farms, and Moomer’s Ice Cream. Visit their website to see the full list of where to buy and details about the ingredients in each product available to purchase online. I usually find Third Coast products in a refrigerator, but it just depends on the product. Your gluten free friends and family will adore you when you show up with a special and unexpected treat or order it online and ship it anywhere in the U.S – including custom orders! Stay tuned, because I know they are working on a store location – I selfishly hope it’s on the west side of Traverse City.

Blessings in Tragedy

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It’s so natural to want to protect each other and check in to make sure we are safe. We teach our kids to look both ways before crossing the street. We check in on friends we haven’t heard from in a few days. We impatiently check Facebook after a natural disaster to make sure friends, family and acquaintances are safe. Safe feels good and comfortable. We aren’t stretched and life feels restful.

What happens when disaster hits? The weatherman can predict floods, tornadoes and hurricanes hitting, but the exact outcome is unpredictable. Lately, I have felt burdened in the midst of so much tragedy for many people who are close to me. It’s not random, but yet it feels like it.

I was shocked to learn that a friend’s brother was shot in the line of duty. He was recovering and then died unexpectedly during surgery. The extremely shocking part (besides this happening in Alaska) was that deep down he knew that he was going to be shot on the line of duty and shared this with his wife before going to work. He left behind a wife and four kids, besides siblings, parents, nieces and nephews.

Multiple friends have recently suffered miscarriages. These friends are great parents and the pain doesn’t go away. They loved their unborn babies immensely and had no indication or reason to believe they would have to say goodbye before meeting them as full-term babies.

Several families in my community face daily battles with their children fighting cancer. I haven’t faced this myself, but my heart shatters for the unknowns these families face. They didn’t plan this and did everything they could to keep their kids safe. I have met many kids with cancer and other diseases who have an incredible amount of joy deep within them.

A mother of an eight-year-old, six-year-old and 10-day-old baby fell asleep at the wheel at around 5:00 p.m. a few days ago and her car burst into flames. She and her eight-year-old daughter passed away, but her other two children were pulled out of harm’s way by brave bystanders. I have been a tired mom many times and this could have happened to me.

It only takes one or two scrolls on Facebook to see an urgent article from a friend about a child being kidnapped, a violent crime, a victim of sex trafficking. It goes on and on and on and soon the world seems so awful and horrible and all I want to do is put a bubble around my kids. What do we do in these horrible, earth-shattering and life-changing moments? Where is God in all of this and why does He let these awful things happen? The world is messed up in many ways, but there are incredible blessings within each one of these tragedies. I have witnessed a strength deep within that only comes in the face of uncertainty. You realize that God is the only one truly in control and nothing you have done or not done earns you a tragedy. God has many appointments for us and the unexpected ones tend to help us grow the most. I believe that each situation that touches our heart changes us. Walking through the long and uncertain days with friends and family teaches us to appreciate the small things and to take each step looking for the hidden blessings.

In Shanna Niequist’s book Present Over Perfect she writes:

“What an extraordinary idea: there are terms. And there are invitations. Most of us don’t live this way – or at least control freaks like me don’t live this way very often. We like to think we set the terms, and we issue the invitations. But maturity, perhaps, is the realization that we are not handing out terms or invitations.

To be very honest, my first several brushes with the terms of my own limitations didn’t bring me to maturity. They brought me to blame, to anger, fist-shaking, sputtering with fear and outrage. But after enough limitations and failures and small deaths, even I began to come around to the invitations, to the idea that our lives are not blank slates, but they’re beautiful nonetheless. No. They’re beautiful because of that, because they’ve been created over time, in love and sickness and moments of courage and moments of terror.”

When I view these horrible tragedies as the terms of my life and invitations to see the blessings around me and grow I know my life is becoming richer and I am learning to be more empathetic and compassionate. Fight for the goodness and share the blessings that have come out of your own tragedies.

Gluten Free and Dairy Free Food List

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To my friend who is now trying to figure out how in the world to eat when meals can no longer include some of your favorite foods. You probably wouldn’t feel as overwhelmed if this was just about you, but figuring this out for your daughter and making it easy to make meals for your whole family seems impossible right now. Any change you make in life that impacts your entire family in such a huge way is going to require two main things: 1) breath. Take time to breath and consider how amazing of a job you are doing. You aren’t throwing in the cookie sheet and giving up. You know you can’t really do that, so you are fighting and that takes an extremely brave mama! Don’t worry about the big meals to come and everything to figure out down the road – just take a moment to breath. 2) Keep fighting because God has it all figured out and has the support and resources waiting for you. He created food and knows exactly what you both need.

You know this, but probably can’t see it right now, but there are so many blessings in having to face this challenge. It seems like wheat and dairy are in absolutely everything, but this is your chance to really experience food and share it with your family. It takes work and it may seem like you just spent two hours making one meal, but the aroma of freshly prepared food that is safe for your whole family will lift your spirit and connect your family in a way that I have not discovered in many of my old favorite foods – I can’t really remember what those were now.

My biggest challenge is always trying to figure out what to make. There are millions of recipes online, so start with creating your go-to food list. I’ll share some of my favs that keep me from starving and encourage me to keep experiencing food. I will keep updating this list as more ideas come to mind.

Gluten Free and Dairy Free Food List

I realize you don’t have to follow a gluten free diet at this time, but these gluten free items will cover you on the wheat free side too.

Breakfast

Lunch / Dinner

  • Meijer brand gluten free noodles with a package of frozen peas and carrots and cooked chicken – smother with your favorite salad dressing (i.e. honey mustard, Italian, etc.)
  • Deli meat sandwich with Oscar Mayer brand meat (my fav is Turkey) and Schar multigrain bread
  • Hummus with chips, chopped veggies, etc.
  • Cherry chicken wrap with dried cherries, cooked and shredded chicken and Live G Free gluten free wraps from Aldi’s
  • Salad with Third Coast gluten free and dairy free croutons, crumpled bacon
  • Autumn sweet potatoes glazed with a brown sugar glaze: chop sweet potatoes and bowl them until they are soft. Put them in an oven-safe dish and add a half a stick of Blue Bonnet lactose free butter chopped, sprinkle brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes.
  • Jasmine rice with chopped brats, a small amount of soy sauce and frozen veggies
  • Homemade pizzas using King Arthur flour (here are some awesome tips on making your favorite crust with their flour), canned mushrooms, Prego Pizza Sauce, Athenos feta cheese (has a small amount of milk in it and Meijer often has it for buy one get one free), Boar’s Head pepperoni (all Boar’s Head meats are gluten free)
  • Italian pork loin filet from Meijer – already seasoned and you just bake for an hour – your house will smell amazing!

Snacks

 

Fight Beyond Breast Cancer – Caleb’s Cancer Journey

Driving down the road I see a pink cement truck and a pink tow truck. A boy around 10 has on long pink socks with his football uniform as I checked out at Meijer. The car in front of me has a decal with the well-known Breast Cancer Awareness Month logo. “October means pink.” I have heard this so many times and my heart truly goes out to women (and men) fighting breast cancer. BUT, I don’t want to forget the hundreds of thousands of kids, teens and adults fighting so many other types of cancer. One such little boy lives in my own community and my heart hurts as I think of not only my daughter who is a couple of years younger, but my nephews who are three, five and seven and my heart hurts even more because cancer doesn’t care who you are or what your hopes and dreams are.

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Caleb Tucker is a bubbly six-year-old that my friend Lisa told me about and shared with our MOPS group. He is fighting an extremely rare form of kidney cancer that completely came out of no where. I imagine him going from swimming and running one day to the hospital bed and seeing the fear in his mother’s eyes the next day. This past August he went through a big surgery to remove an even bigger tumor – the size of a cantaloupe. He is now going through rounds of chemo, but his smile remains. His joy remains. His spirit remains. His parents want to remain by his side (as most parents would) as they navigate these uncharted waters that no parent dreams of when they first saw their hopes and dreams the day he was born.

My friend Lisa McIntyre owns McAndMarCreates and is raising funds to help support the entire Tucker family as they drive to and from Caleb’s appointments, stop for meals, pay for parking and even overnight stays. In order to be by Caleb’s side, his mom, Tarah, has to miss work, which means saying no to a paycheck in order to say yes to their son. His dad, Ben, continues to work as he knows providing for his son is the best way to care for Caleb and his younger sister, Grace, and brother, Luke. For the month of October, Lisa is selling decals for $3 each – seriously, you need one or ten of these awesome decals – and $1 from each sale goes directly to the Tucker family. She’s also donating $5 from every custom shirt order to the family. Lisa does absolutely amazing work and you won’t regret getting a #momlife decal to stick on your coffee mug or a custom shirt for your kid’s first birthday or becoming a big sister. Why are you still reading? Go order now! Also visit Caleb’s Cancer Journey GoFundMe page to learn his full story and to make an additional donation. 

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Gluten Free Grub: Mama Lu’s of Traverse City

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Traverse City, Michigan has become a food mecca of sorts with so many great restaurants and unique places to dine. This morning I sat through my doctor’s appointment (I’m not dying, just had a weird bump on my foot that turned out to be nothing to cry about). I feel like a kindergartner who is following the rules to sit still, not make a fuss in order to get a sucker every time I go to the doctor. Although I love my doctor, I hate dealing with all things medical, so I decided to treat myself to a delicious lunch. Friends had raved about Mama Lu’s and the review on my Find Me Gluten Free app quickly confirmed why I needed to stop in.

I strapped Teagan on and she quickly fell asleep (which feels like a reward because I can chow down with a happy baby!). The server invited me to sit where ever I wanted and I chose a nearby table. After looking at the menu, I started asking my usual questions to determine whether it’s really safe for me to eat or if I’m risking getting glutened. The server let me know that all tacos can be made gluten free and the only difference was that some of the meats would be cooked in a pan instead of on the grill to avoid contamination. I asked if the chips were fried in the same oil as everything else and smiled as I learned they serve Great Lakes Potato Chips, since they are gluten free and I have consumed many bags. Glancing at the menu confirmed this was listed under chips and salsa.

I ordered chips and salsa and three chicken tacos without cheese, pickled red onion and jalapenos. Looking around while I waited for my food, I noticed the teal chairs at the bar, the TACO sign on a shelf near the entrance, and the blue tin cups on each table that hold the napkins and silverware. The entire feel is very homey and clean.

My chips and salsa came out first so I started munching away as I took in more decor. Three tacos were delicately arranged on a rectangular plate and I was both nervous and intrigued by the chicken skin on top of the seasoned chicken and homemade white corn tortilla shells. I waited about 10 minutes for my food and tried taking just as long to eat them as I tried to savor each bite and each moment Teagan slept. The food was absolutely delicious, but the real test was whether or not I was glutened. I know almost immediately and avoided the notorious migraine through the afternoon.

I highly recommend Mama Lu’s and will be visiting again soon! Here are some other delicious options to devour.

Beans

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Guacamole

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Pollo Tacos

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Images used with permission from Mama Lu’s.

Working Out Is Good for You… They Said

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What people don’t tell you is how challenging and funny it can be (as long as you choose to laugh). When I first learned I was pregnant last September I knew I wanted this pregnancy to be different. My first was so easy, but I was so busy it was hard to hold working out as a priority. The first steps into running again were excruciatingly awful and painful as I struggled to make it 1/4 mile. I recovered and bounced back eventually, but was determined to workout for as long as I could while carrying Teagan – I was hoping for the entire pregnancy. My body told me at 16 weeks that working out was too much of a risk. I listened and don’t regret it at all, but have been eager to getting my stride back and feeling the exhilaration of a hard workout.

The day finally came after giving myself 12 weeks to heal. I rejoined the YMCA this past Monday and completed my third workout today. This is where it gets funny. The trainers are hilarious – they keep asking how I’m doing during a workout. Hello! I’m clearly out of breath while doing the modified version (or my own modified version) of every exercise – except walking, I can handle that as I walk over to get water every five minutes. “Do you feel that?” Yes and no. I feel my muscles trying to come alive again, but they are screaming like my three-month-old who just wants to be cuddled. Right now I can feel my arms and legs again, but they were screaming at me the past two days and I couldn’t really feel them. Which is why misjudging the hutch behind me in my dining room while wearing Teagan last night is funny. The bruise reminds me that the pain from working out again isn’t the worst possible pain I can experience. Working out with a bruise while having extra fluff so said bruise moves – ahem, we’ll call it wiggles – while I jog gives me another reason to laugh.

My thoughts as I make it through each workout:

“That hurt – I hope I can pick up Teagan later.”

“Do I feel the burn? Only every time I think about moving. Thanks for asking.”

“I wonder if anyone noticed I wore this same shirt yesterday? I swear I have more workout clothes, but they make me look like I’ve hit up the cupcake shop more than the gym.”

“It’s only been 15 minutes? Is the clock broken? No?”

“I’m starving! What do I have to eat when I get home? I wonder if they have gluten free snacks at the food counter…”

I learned long ago that working out is 90% mental. This is why I choose laughter. It’s hard not to compare my post-baby self to my pre-baby self, but I see how far I’ve come from being exhausted walking up and down the stairs at week two. I will keep going to the gym and fighting through each workout – if you see me smiling it’s because I’m laughing at myself. I’ll get back to where I want to be as I bring my family along with me. This means balance. It means we’ll take the extra time at the Y to go swimming together. It means having to adjust from day one when I made three trips to the Y in the same day after forgetting everything. Working out with two kids is not the same as working out by myself. It’s harder and less convenient, but this is what raising them to take care of themselves requires and I’m blessed with the time to do it. We’re getting there and the bumps and laughter will keep coming. Come laugh with me and we can fight for what really matters together.

Choosing Joy When You are Waiting

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Memorial Day 2016

When we announced our pregnancy last October the announcement read “No Tricks just a treat… our family is growing by two feet! May ’16”. Our expected due date was May 26 and although the doctor reminded me every appointment to count on a week or two after that, we anticipated meeting our newest little in May. It’s June 7th – 12 days past our due date and completely not what we expected, but Teagan is healthy and so am I. My village – you know, the people I couldn’t live without – text, call and Facebook asking me how I’m doing. They don’t ask if the baby has come yet since my Facebook page is void of pictures of a newborn. They don’t call me every day and they know I’ll ask if I need something. I love my village. Here’s how I’m really doing.

I feel great – actually better than I did on my due date. I have aches, pains, heartburn, headaches, and moments I feel emotionally spent. I don’t base how I’m doing on the physical discomforts anymore when I realized how powerful it is to choose joy each moment. I’m physically more uncomfortable now than on my due date, but choosing joy has brought a perspective I never could have imagined or experienced if Teagan had come at exactly 40 weeks.

I choose joy when my four-year-old has been talking all day (she can hold a conversation for hours) and I need quiet time, which seems more often than not.

I choose joy when I wake up with a migraine and my daughter is in high-demand wanting everything mode.

I choose joy when my hubby wakes up crabby – it’s because he chose to sleep on the couch so I could get a good night’s rest. Pregnancy hormones make it easy to forget how amazing he is!

I choose joy when I’m starving because my last meal was an hour ago and I can’t get through town because of all the construction.

I choose joy when it has been raining all day and I just want to sit outside on the deck in the sun.

I choose joy when there are no ice packs left in the freezer because they are all on the floor and I could not pick them up.

I choose joy when I wake up at 5 a.m. and can’t get back to sleep and then my four-year-old comes in at 5:30 a.m. to cuddle. This one isn’t as hard, because who doesn’t love to watch their child sleep?

I choose joy when there are more dishes in the sink and on the counter than in the cupboard because I had to choose between enjoying a bonfire outside and cleaning up. There just isn’t energy for both!

I choose joy in the tough parenting moments as heartburn is at it’s worst because I’m still a mom and choose to teach over letting my frustration boil over.

I choose joy when I wake up four times to pee and it also means grabbing a snack.

There are so many moments I’m choose joy over letting being tired, frustrated, annoyed, irritated and uncomfortable choose my actions for me. This has been after many of those not so proud moments, but I’m grateful I’ve had 12 extra days to choose joy and soak in the moments that bring out the blessings of having to wait. Today’s a good day to have a baby though, right?

Gluten Free Brands That Ship in the U.S. Offering Coupons (Updated Each Week)

Gluten Free Brands That Ship in the U.S. Offering Coupons (Updated Each Week)
Gluten Free Brands That Ship in the U.S. Offering Coupons (Updated Each Week)

Did you know that many companies that offer gluten free products will gladly give you coupons for their products? Just like the many gluten free communities all over social media websites, most gluten free companies are extremely friendly and strive to be as helpful as possible (another reason I love my gluten free tribe!). The brands below are listed in alphabetical order and their coupons and offers are updated each week. You will also see more brands added as I confirm the details with each brand! Is your favorite brand missing? Comment below and share the details! Don’t forget to share this with your other friends and friendly gluten free communities.

Note: The list is strictly to highlight brands and companies that offer coupons for their products. I’m working on another list of coupon and deal websites that also offer coupons and discounts and that will be a separate post.

Bob’s Red Mill Coupons

Coupon for $1.00 Off A Product and $1.00 Off Oats or Oatmeal!

Bob’s Red Mill has been around since 1978 and has always focused on quality while making the countless products that have become favorites around my house and many others. You can count on Bob’s Red Mill for flours and meals, cereals, granola, baking mixes, oats and grains. Enter your zip code in the store locator tool to find stores near you that carry Bob’s Red Mill products.

How can I get this coupon?

Click this link to see the coupons available for the month and click “Add to Printer” to print each coupon.

NOTE: You will have to download the Hopster.com printer if this is your first time printing coupons from Bob’s Red Mill.

Canyon Bakehouse Coupons

Coupon for $1.00 Off A Product!

Canyon Bakehouse Gluten Free specializes in making bread! You may soon find a favorite after trying their 7-Grain, Cinnamon Raisin, Mountain White, Deli Rye Style, Rosemary and Thyme Focaccia, Hamburger Buns, Brownie Bites, Plain Bagels and Everything Bagels. Enter your zip code in their Store Locator tool to find a store near you that carries Canyon Bakehouse products!

How can I get this coupon?

Visit this link, sign up to receive their newsletter  and the coupon will load on the next page.

Enjoy Life Coupons

Coupon for $1.50 Off Any Two Products!

Enjoy Life makes cookies, baking mixes, seed and fruit mixes, chocolate bars and a lot more! They are widely available in stores all over the U.S. and you can enter your zip code in their store locator tool to find locations near you.

How can I get this coupon?

Click this link and you will see two coupons – one for the U.S. and one for Canada. Click “get coupon,” enter your email address and a short message and click “Print Coupon”!

NOTE: You will want to have your printer turned on and you will need to download the Jumpstart Printer application in order to download this coupon.

Glutino Coupons

Coupon for $1.00 Off A Product!

Glutino has a ton of great products available at so many stores throughout the U.S. I often have my cupboard stocked with their crackers, toaster pastries (GF Pop Tarts!), pretzels and baking mixes. You can order their products online and find stores in your area that carry Gluntino products.

How can I get this coupon?

This is a one-time coupon available for you to download after you signup to be on their email address. Sign up today to download your coupon!

Jennie-O Coupons

Coupon for $0.55 Off a Breakfast Product and $0.75 Off Frozen Turkey Burgers!

Did you know that Jennie-O carries gluten free products? They do, including breakfast products and turkey burgers. Jennie-O products are available at most stores in the U.S. and you can use their Where To Buy tool to find stores in your area.

How can I get this coupon?

Click this link to see the current coupons available and then click the individual coupons to clip them. Once they are clipped, click “Print Coupons”.

NOTE: You will need to install the coupon printer and make sure your printer is turned on.

Pamela’s Coupons

Coupons for $0.50 Off and $1.00 Off Products!

Pamela’s is another gluten free brand that offers delicious products that are currently available in Canada and the U.S. I highly recommend checking out their baking mixes, cookies and fig bars, Whenever bars and graham crackers. Find which stores carry Pamela products near you with the U.S. Store Locator tool and the Canada Store Locator tool.

How can I get this coupon?

Visit this link to see the two coupons available. The first is for $0.50 off any Pamela’s product (that you can download twice!) and a coupon for $1.00 off any Pamela’s products that you can unlock by sharing the coupon on social media and signing up to receive their newsletter.

Rudis Bakery Coupons

Coupons for $1.25 Off Products!

Rudis Bakery Gluten Free offers a selection of many bread-related products, including sandwich breads, buns and rolls, tortillas, pizza crust, cherry almond bars, ciabatta rolls and toast. Rudis is available at stores throughout the U.S. and you can check your specific area by entering your zip code in their Where to Buy tool.

How can I get this coupon?

Simply click this link and download it! You can print the coupon twice, so you save $2.50 total on two products.

Udis Coupon

Coupons for $1.00 Off Products!

Udis Gluten Free makes so many different awesome products, from frozen meals, bagels, breads and burritos to cookies, granola, pizza and tortillas. Udis is widely available at stores and you can find which stores carry Udis products in your area with their Store Locator tool.

How can I get this coupon?

Click this link and sign up to join the Udis community and you will receive a $1.00 off coupon that can be used toward any Udis product. Being part of the community has many perks, including access to special offers and opportunities to grow your gluten free tribe.

Vans Coupons

Coupon for $1.25 Off Products!

Van’s has many different gluten free products, from waffles, cookies, pasta, snack bars, crackers, cereals and more! You can find their products widely available at many local and national chain stores. Check the store locator to find where Van’s products are sold in your area!

How can I get this coupon?

Click this link to sign up to join their eClub and make sure you check “coupons” in the form for what you are interested in. You will immediately receive a thank you email with a coupon for $1.25 off any Van’s product!

February 2016 Gluten Free Giveaways

February 2016 Gluten Free Facebook Giveaways
February 2016 Gluten Free Facebook Giveaways

The gluten free community has always been extremely friendly and welcoming – especially the brands and companies. I wasn’t surprised to see quite a few companies running contests and giveaways – which means it’s your chance to enter to win free products and spread the gluten free love. Yes, these companies are promoting their products and running a giveaway is a great way to promote their brand, but the main mission behind each campaign goes way beyond trying to make a dollar at the end of the day. These brands work hard to make gluten free products that are safe and extremely tasty, so let’s show them some love in return by entering their contests!

Note: This list is updated regularly as new contests and giveaways are discovered. Let me know of your favorite contests by gluten free brands in the comments section if I have missed one.

Canyon Gluten Free Bakehouse

“Month of Love Gluten Free Giveaways”

Check out Canyon Gluten Free Bakehouse’s Facebook page for updates on their ongoing giveaways for gluten free products. They have partnered with other gluten free brands, including Justin’s Almond Butter.

Checkout some delicious Canyon Gluten Free Bakehouse bread available to buy on Amazon!

Kinnikinnick Foods

“Marathon Baking Product Giveaway”

Kinnikinnick is a favorite gluten free brand and they are currently holding a huge giveaway for baking products! Visit the blog SimplyGluten-Free.com for full details about the contest and an entry form for you to quickly enter!

Checkout some of my favorite Kinnikinnick products on Amazon, including Smoreable Style Graham Crackers, Animal Cookies, Chocolate Animal Cookies, and Vanilla Wafers.

Udi’s Gluten Free

“Who Helps You Live Gluten Free Contest”

Udi’s Gluten Free is holding a current contest for you to nominate a person who supports your gluten free lifestyle. To enter, visit their Facebook page and upload a photo and tell Udi’s the ways your loved one supports you! The winner will receive a $500 Visa gift card and an Udi’s prize pack!

Check Udi’s Gluten Free pizza crusts and salted caramel cashew soft baked cookies available on Amazon!

Should the U.S. Offer Prescriptions for Gluten Free Food?

Should the U.S. Offer Prescriptions for Gluten Free Food-
Should the U.S. Offer Prescriptions for Gluten Free Food?

You have just been diagnosed with Celiac Disease and the biggest challenge you know face is figuring out what to eat. You can no longer have regular pizza, pasta and bread and your mind draws a blank on what exists beyond your favorite carbs. It feels like there is nothing for you to eat, let alone enjoy. You know that millions of people are now following a gluten free diet, but this doesn’t comfort how you feel right this moment. After your pity party and grabbing a coffee (with no real idea on whether or not it contains gluten) you feel a tiny bit more brave and walk into the first grocery store you see. Panic ensues as you have no idea where to find this mysterious gluten free food, but you march on determined to leave the store with one gluten free item even if it takes you all day. You walk down the first isle, which happens to be the frozen pizza section and you cry a little. Passing by the bags of fries, rolls and waffles, you see a sign ahead that’s like finally finding water in the desert: “Gluten Free”. There is hope! You discover pizza, bean burritos and chicken nuggets and begin loading your cart. Happy that you will no longer starve, you move to the checkout with renewed hope that you can do this.

Prescriptions for Gluten Free Staple Foods in the UK

The shock of being diagnosed with Celiac Disease or any form of gluten sensitivity can feel overwhelming, but imagine if your doctor could point you in the direction of gluten free food that is healthy and doesn’t taste like cardboard. This isn’t normal for doctors in the United States, but it’s exactly what happens in the UK. Say what? Patients who are diagnosed with Coeliac Disease – that’s what Celiac Disease is called in the UK – are often written a prescription for gluten free staple foods. They have a program in place called The National Prescribing Guidelines that recommends the amount of these staple foods a patient can receive each month and each item available has to be approved by the Advisory Committee on Borderline Substances. So what’s included in these staples? Gluten free breads and rolls, cereal, crackers and crispbreads, pizza bases, pasta, oats, flour and flour mixes. After a patient receives the prescription they go to their local pharmacy to get their food! This means the pharmacists are also knowledgeable about gluten free foods – I have found that it’s hit and miss at my local pharmacies in the U.S. Here are more details about the prescriptions for gluten free staple foods in the UK.

Is the food healthy that is available within the prescription for gluten free staple foods?

This may seem like a silly question to people in the UK, but I don’t agree with everything our Food and Drug Administration deems healthy and safe, so I’m skeptical when I first learn about advances with gluten free food. In the UK, the companies that create and supply the food available with the prescription are referred to as UK-based prescription brands and supply directly to pharmaceutical wholesalers. One company is called Juvela and I received this explanation after emailing them: “We only produce products specifically for medically diagnosed coeliacs.” Juvela has people on staff who work directly with healthcare professionals and and also dietitians who work with patients. Another company is called Glutafin and they also confirmed that they are a healthcare brand. Glutafin is part of Dr. Schar and the Dr. Schar Institute, which “is the dedicated healthcare professional resource for experts specialising in coeliac disease and gluten sensitivity,” per their website. I found this extremely interesting to learn not only because Schar bread tastes amazing and is closer to the “regular” bread I grew up eating, but also because of the medical expertise driving the products produced.

Why Don’t U.S. Doctors Offer Prescriptions for Gluten Free Food?

I can’t say for sure that prescriptions for gluten free food are not available in the U.S., but they certainly are not widely available. Doctors and nutritionists may recommend certain gluten free foods to include in your diet, as well as vitamins, but discovering products and covering the cost is up to the individual. There are ways to cut to costs over time, but our current healthcare system is not setup to get someone started on a gluten free lifestyle or help cover the costs. Although cutting the costs of my beloved gluten free foods would be great, I’m concerned that the overall costs of healthcare would greatly increase if doctors started writing prescriptions for specific gluten free foods. The number of people diagnosed would certainly increase since we know that pharmaceutical companies would begin to heavily push these prescriptions. This would create more awareness of Celiac Disease and gluten sensitivity with doctors, but it would also push a diagnosis on people who may not actually need to follow a gluten free diet. My assumptions on this are based on what happens when a new drug comes on the market and the sudden increase in prescribing that drug.

Would I love to see more people who are truly gluten free find the resources and help to start and remain on the diet they need? Absolutely! I’m not sure of the right solution or model for this that would fit into our current healthcare system, but I do think starting at local levels and within gluten free communities is the place to start. The people who are most knowledgeable on a gluten free diet are those who actually practice it. I’m confident that we can determine a solution by working with gluten free companies and referring to our own experiences of helping each other.

Do you have a brilliant idea to help people in the U.S. who have been diagnosed with Celiac Disease or gluten sensitivity? Comment below!

Katz Brand Gluten Free Donuts in the United States!

One food that I have missed immensely since going gluten free over a year ago are donuts and I know I am not alone. Even a plain donut would do, but I’d die for a chocolate glazed one – anything with chocolate would be amazing. My craving for donuts has only increased while being pregnant, but I absolutely will not eat a regular donut and activate a war on my digestive system. I tabled the thought of eating donuts until people in the Gluten Free group I’m part of on Facebook started posting about Katz donuts. I immediately checked out their website to see if there were any available at stores in my area using their store finder tool. I assumed they probably were not because I had never noticed the brand at any stores up here, from WalMart to Meijer to Oleson’s. I was over joyed (but still skeptical) when I saw Oleson’s pop up on their location map. I briefly looked for the donuts as I walked through the store, without really knowing what section I should even attempt to walk through.

I was at Oleson’s again today picking up Silk soy creamer and glanced over at the gluten free frozen section. Here is what I discovered:

Katz Gluten Free Donuts
Katz Gluten Free Donuts

Not only do they carry Katz donuts, but there are at least six different kinds! It’s gluten free donut Heaven people. I shrieked with excitement and noticed the price is not too bad either at $6.49 for a box of six which comes to $1.08 per donut – far less expensive than buying a single cookie from a local restaurant for over $2.00 each.

I posted the same picture in the Gluten Free group and it garnered numerous comments and questions – see, we gluten free people NEED a good donut on occasion too! It’s almost like going to the bakery and picking out your own donut, except you get to buy a pack of six at a time. I consulted my gluten free tribe who have tried these before and they recommend either eating them cold, letting them thaw out on the counter for a bit or warming them up in the microwave for a few seconds after they are nearly thawed out.

I spent the day reading comments from “I love Katz donuts” to “Do they ship them in the UK” and did some further research about Katz and their brand. Here are some interesting things I discovered, besides a new brand to love.

  • Katz is located in Mountainville, New York
  • You can order the donuts and many other products they offer right from their website if you live in the U.S.
  • They do not ship directly anywhere outside of the U.S., but there are locations in Canada and the UK that sell the Katz brand. I send Katz a Facebook message asking what locations carry their brand in the UK and will post the response here when I receive a response!
  • You can order directly from their website and checkout the entireKatz Donut Selection.
  • Here are some favorites Katz Chocolate Frosted Donuts, Katz Powdered Donuts, Katz Custard Donuts, and Katz Pumpkin Spice Glazed Donuts.

There are other brands of gluten free donuts and also many recipes to guide you in making some from scratch, but the consensus among my gluten free tribe so far is that Katz brand is one of the best and a great option when you want to re-experience going to the store and buying a delicious donut. We are still figuring out a way to easily ship them to the UK, but I know my GF tribe will figure it out!

Breaking Busy to Just Be

Breaking Busy: Breaking Busy to Just Be
Breaking Busy: Breaking Busy to Just Be

Reading the book “Breaking Busy: How to Find Peace and Purpose In A World of Crazy” by Alli Worthington is one of the best ways you can kick start the new you in 2016. You have a few weeks to figure out what this means to you before the book releases January 26th. Pre-order it now and then keep reading about how this book has changed my life (yeah, this seems cliche, but it’s the truth).

“Good. Busy.”

How do you respond when someone asks “how you are?” For a long time I replied, “Good. Busy.” Really? Why in the world did I need to remind people that I was busy? People who know me know life is busy and I realized that reminding people of how busy I was killed the conversation every single time. Saying you are busy has become an empty answer and I feel like it became an excuse to not do the things that brought life and enjoyment to myself and those around me.

Just Being

A few months ago God began leading me through the current season I am in – a season of just being. It started with feeling exhausted freelancing full time and I craved being surrounded by coworkers in an encouraging environment. He opened the door to the current marketing job I have and absolutely love. This has allowed me to quit the late night freelance schedule and be present with my family in the evenings. I’ve cut back on the number of things I “have” to do which means I can focus on doing a few things really well. I’ve realized that the fewer things I have to manage in my schedule means the less I have to rush from thing to thing to thing. Rushing kills my enjoyment. In September we learned that I’m expecting again and we are so excited since we have been praying about another child for a year. The pregnancy quickly took it’s toll and I could not stay up late and I was forced to rest often. I feel slightly better than I did the first trimester, but I still struggle with migraines – especially if I’m stressed or lacking rest. This season of just being has lead to figuring out how to break busy.

What’s Your Capacity?

Alli uses the analogy of limits of a cell phone to show that we all have capacity limits. Alli states, “As much as I love my phone, as much as I need what it can do, as awful as feel when I’m without it, I never ask my phone for more than it can give me. We have some great boundaries in our relationship, my phone and I. I know exactly how much that phone has to offer. It has a limited capacity , and I respect that.”

It’s easy for me to see capacity and limits with things – not filling my gas tank means running out of gas, not charging my phone will mean the battery will die, not buying more milk means we will run out. It’s harder for me to identify my own capacity and limits, but I admire and respect people who know their limits and set boundaries to ensure they stay within their limits. What happens when I go over my capacity? I’m an emotional mess, physically exhausted and mentally empty. I have learned many of my limits with being pregnant and am learning what situations and people exhaust me the most so I can set the proper boundaries.

Read A Sample Chapter

You will want to buy this book, but Alli has released the chapter Traditions: Finding Your Groove in a World of Expectations for you to download for free so you can try it out. I highly recommend reading it, but I’m warning you that you will devour it like you did Gilmore Girls and Parenthood. Don’t forget to pre-order the book so you can devour the rest when it’s released on January 26th!

Why Do We Blame Others When We are Annoyed?

Why Do We Blame Others When We are Annoyed?
Why Do We Blame Others When We are Annoyed?

Have you ever caught yourself trying to blame someone else when something isn’t going as planned? You know it’s the slow driver in front of you that has made you 20 minutes late, not over sleeping. If people would move faster you wouldn’t have to wait so long in the grocery store. You can’t fall asleep so it must be your husband’s fault because he turned over. I’m so guilty of this last one and it seems so ridiculous now!

A few nights ago I was falling asleep on the couch so I went to bed early and could not fall asleep as I became wide awake. This annoys me, so naturally I want to place blame on the little reasons that may prevent me from falling asleep, which is how I started blaming my husband for why I could sleep. The light on his cell phone. His coughing (which wasn’t even bad). Him rolling over. These are so petty, but it’s these pesky little reasons that seem so grand at the time that turn into pebbles between us and soon it’s the Wall of China.

This can happen with your kids, coworkers and even strangers at the grocery store. Yes, I have been rude at the grocery store because I didn’t feel good or because I was in a hurry. Yes, it’s totally embarrassing thinking back now, but why in the world do I demand placing blame on others who did not cause these situations? It seems justify able at the time, doesn’t it? I’m annoyed so let me tell you why you are annoying me. What a great way to connect with others – especially your family. That is not logical or even fair, but it happens doesn’t it?

So how do we stop blaming everyone? I’ve learned that removing myself from the situation is the first step. It’s my bad mood and annoyance, not their’s. Then I take a minute to really think through what’s happening and I end up laughing at  myself at how ridiculous my behavior was. Next comes the apology for my rudeness and an explanation, but not – absolutely  not – a justification for my behavior.

Imagine how quickly we could squash the rudeness and disconnection bug if we learned to assess the situation first.
photo credit: Day 78 via photopin (license)

8 Tips to De-Gluten Your Gluten-Filled Kitchen

8 Tips to De-Gluten Your Gluten-Filled Kitchen

What can drive a gluten free person crazy? Being in a kitchen surrounded by breadcrumbs, little hands holding a sandwich and touching all the cabinets and gluten free goods put in the wrong place. How do I keep from going crazy and wanting to through absolutely everything out? First – been there, done that. I’ve learned that if I assume I am consuming a tiny bit of gluten each day and how amazing my body is in handling the unknown, I can keep things in perspective. Also, each time you do run into gluten contamination or something that needs to change so your own kitchen is welcoming, treat it as a learning experience. Don’t let perfection rule and ruin your day. There are steps to take to detox your body from gluten contamination, but that’s for another post. Here are some tips I have learned over the past year. I’m still learning and would also love to hear your favorite tips to keeping your kitchen gluten free!

You may need to make more changes based on how you and your family uses your kitchen, but these eight tips will help you get started!

  • Buy two of the same products that your family uses frequently – we do this with peanut butter and butter and I actually prefer different brands from what the rest of my family likes. If you buy the same brand your family eats then label one as your own.
  • Train your family as you learn. I wasn’t sure how my husband and daughter would adjust to the changes I had to make in the kitchen, but as my husband noticed a huge difference in my health (finally, relief!) he quickly came on board to stick to the changes. There are times we both forgot and my gluten free peanut butter became the family’s peanut butter, but we both laughed and bought a new container. No big deal!
  • Don’t lick your fingers. If you are a mom then you may have developed the habit of licking your fingers while making a meal or dinner. I still make gluten-filled meals for my family, so licking my fingers could be really detrimental. Again, I chose laughter as I imagined how funny it would look when I remembered at the last second that I can’t eat the breadcrumb covered chicken.
  • Assume gluten is on every counter top and clean often. This was a big one for me because I would get frustrated if I saw crumbs from making lunch on the island. Instead of trying to change my family (they weren’t really doing anything wrong!) I changed my habit. I now wipe every surface before making food – quick, simple and pretty much full-proof!
  • Designate gluten free zones in your kitchen. I have a drawer in the fridge for my food (and veggies my family eats since it keeps gluten from traveling from other foods in the fridge. I also have a section for my snacks in the pantry and a shelf for my gluten free flour. Surprisingly, I didn’t need a lot of space, but space in the right places.
  • Ask someone else to touch the bread. My husband is great about this one! For example, if I make dinner rolls for my family to enjoy I have my hubby pull them out of the oven and put them on each plate (skipping mine of course). This prevents me from accidentally contaminating my food and it’s a big help.
  • Make your gluten free dinner first. I promise this isn’t selfish! Making your food first means you can concentrate on the rest of the gluten containing food and keep the two totally separate instead of trying to make gluten free and regular food at the same time. For example, we love spaghetti night and I have learned to cook my noodles first and add my sauce (Prego spaghetti sauce is gluten free and my entire family loves it!) before making the regular wheat noodles. I like to use fewer dishes if possible, so this allows me to use one strainer for both noodles. If I made the regular wheat noodles first I would risk contaminating my gluten free noodles since noodles can stick and hand washing the strainer doesn’t guarantee the gluten is gone.
  • Don’t use any laying knife on the counter – even if you think you just used it. Yes, this does mean doing more dishes, but it also means the gluten from the piece of bread your husband just buttered can’t contaminate your veggies you are cutting up.

I wish you the best as you get started in creating a safe kitchen that is welcoming to everyone in your family. Share your tips to a gluten free kitchen below!

Gluten Free Rice Pudding Recipe

Gluten Free Rice Pudding Recipe

One of my favorite homemade foods is my mom’s rice pudding. It was a frequent food often made from leftover rice we had every Sunday morning for breakfast. I would have been content to eat this for every single meal and it always felt like a treat. My love for rice pudding has grown as an adult as I’ve learned how to make it using different ingredients and seasonings. It’s even more fun now that my daughter will devour a bowl in mere seconds.

Brown Rice Instead of White Rice

As I began trying to add more nutrition to my everyday meals I discovered how little nutritional value traditional white rice contains, but how rich in nutrition brown rice is. I was thrilled to learn that brown rice tastes great in rice pudding, but there are a few adjustments to make because it’s more dense that white rice.

Replacing Cow’s Milk and Sugar

Other ingredients in my childhood favorite treat include milk, eggs, vanilla, cinnamon and sugar. I had already been using almond milk in place of cow’s milk and I had grown less of a tolerance for sweets since I had cut out the numerous processed sugary foods that used to be staples. I cut out a large portion of the sugar, using only a few tablespoons of cane sugar instead of 1/4 to 1/2 cup of white sugar. Almond milk is sweeter than cow’s milk, so I wasn’t lacking in the sweetness I remembered.

Gluten Free and Dairy Free Rice Pudding

Now that the changes to the recipe make sense (and actually work!), let’s make a batch of my favorite rice pudding!

Ingredients

3 cups cooked brown rice

1 1/2 cups almond milk*

3 eggs*

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 tablespoons cane sugar

2 teaspoons cinnamon (or more if you love cinnamon!)

*Add more milk and eggs if you want a creamer pudding

Preheat your oven to 350° and add the rice to a casserole dish. Mix the milk, eggs, vanilla and cane sugar together in a bowl with a whisk. Pour it over the rice and use a large spoon to mix it together and spread it out evenly. Sprinkle cinnamon over the mixture. Cover the casserole dish with a glass lid or aluminum foil and bake it in the oven for 30 minutes. Take off the cover and bake for 5 minutes. The rice pudding is done when most of the liquid is baked in and it’s slightly crispy on the top. Don’t let it over bake or it will become dried up. Serve fresh out of the oven or chilled. Refrigerate what doesn’t disappear!

Favorite Gluten Free Snacks (Yes, they are kid friendly!)

Favorite Gluten Free Snacks (Yes, they are kid friendly!)

I love to eat snacks just like everyone else and appreciate a good snack that is easy to grab as I run out the door. The biggest thing about eating healthy, let alone staying gluten free, is planning ahead. Waiting to figure out what to eat until I’m starving is a really bad idea because gluten free food may not be available and I will wait way too long to eat. So, I’ve learned which stores carry my favorite products that are gluten free (and handy when traveling) and which ones also offer some nutrition. My whole view of food has changed, especially when it comes to cutting out unnecessary sugar and fitting in extra nutrition without compromising on taste. Here are some of my favorite gluten free snacks to buy.

Favorite Snacks to Buy

My favorite store to buy gluten free foods is Meijer and my local natural health food store Oryana, but many of these products are available at stores throughout the U.S. and also online.

Justin Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups

Glutino Gluten Free Pretzel

Glutino Bagel Chips

KIND Snack Bars – My favorites are the Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate and Vanilla Blueberry

Dole Frozen Mixed Fruit (Mix of strawberries, peaches, pineapple and mango) – I also buy this in a larger quantity from Sam’s Club

Snyder’s Gluten Free Honey Mustard Pretzel Sticks

Silk Vanilla Yogurt (this links to the Blueberry yogurt, but each container looks similar) with Chex Honey Nut Gluten Free Granola mixed in

Frito Lay Brand Chips (Here is a list of all Frito Lay Brand chips that are gluten free!) and Chi Chi’s Salsa Thick and Chunky Mild

Skippy Natural Creamy Peanut Butter with Apples (or other fruit)

Sliced Yellow, Orange and Red Bell Peppers and other sliced veggies

Kellogg’s Special K Gluten Free Cereal with Meijer Brand Original Almond Milk (I don’t consider cereal a meal, but a healthy snack midday)

Cinnamon Chex Cereal

 

One Year of Gluten Free – What I’ve Learned

One Year of Gluten Free - What I've Learned
One Year of Gluten Free – What I’ve Learned

One year ago today I knew my journey of going gluten free had begun, but there was so much I didn’t know. I was full of hopes for better health and knew deep down that I was going in the right direction. I didn’t have go-to meals yet. I didn’t know what was safe to eat as I aimlessly wandered through grocery stores. I didn’t know how I would handle eating out at restaurants. This past year has been challenging, but not impossible! I have discovered new loves, silenced unhealthy cravings (even while being pregnant) that were trapping me in the cycle of feeling lousy. I have been surprised at how many people have supported my journey and have also started the gluten free journey for themselves or their kids. My gluten free tribe is growing and we all have tidbits of things we have learned, so I thought I’d share a few of my own.

Not All Foods have a Gluten Free Version (that is tasty)

Between all the awesome gluten free blogs full of recipes and stores offering a growing number of gluten free foods it’s easy to assume you can find everything you love in a gluten free version. This is simply not true – but not a bad thing! Food is going to taste different when you switch up the ingredients. Sure, I’ve cut out a lot of food, but I’ve also added in a ton of new foods and flavors I would have never tried if every single gluten free pasta, brownie mix and loaf of bread tasted exactly the same as the brands I used to frequent. It’s not the same and sometimes I just want my mom’s homemade brownies or dirt cake, but I do enjoy many new foods that are naturally gluten free – like sweet cherries.

I was a Terrible Cook

Okay, I didn’t burn everything, but I didn’t know how to make light and fluffy scrambled eggs, evenly cooked bacon, my own seasonings or tasty baked chicken that’s not dried out. Quite simply, my old cooking habits  consisted of combining different versions of overly processed food mixed with a lot of sugar. Maybe it’s because I’m pregnant and eat often, but I really love cooking food and my picky husband is also enjoying it. Learning to cook isn’t hard, but it has taken time and also a few kitchen upgrades.

My Kid Eats the Way I Eat

Kids are sponges and when I first went gluten free my three-year-old would often ask whether something contained gluten. It was cute and made me smile, but showed me once again that she is not only eating what I eat, but learning about nutrition. Knowing exactly what’s in my food – since nearly everything is homemade – means I’ve learned a lot more about nutrition. At almost four, my daughter has learned what a balanced meal looks like and how enjoyable (and messy) cooking can be – doing the dishes are another story though.

Never Blindly Trust the Big Brands

Many bigger brands have started making gluten free versions of their products, including Kellogg’s Eggo Waffles, General Mills Cheerios and Quaker Oats Oatmeal. When I first saw gluten free Cheerios I raced to the store to buy the Honey Nut Cheerios and Multi Grain Cheerios. I assumed they were completely safe, but I was feeling achy after a few days of eating a bowl a day. I Googled “are gluten free Cheerios safe” and learned that they weren’t really gluten free, but rather fell into the FDA regulations of labeling a product as gluten free because they passed the test of 20 parts per million. I don’t know my exact gluten limit, but I know I’m extremely sensitive to gluten, so I decided that eating Cheerios wasn’t the right decision for me. Since then, I have learned to look into the process and see what other people with Celiac disease have experienced with a specific product before diving in. Gluten free Quaker Oats Oatmeal is a win for me though! It’s naturally gluten free and Quaker Brand has taken extra measures to ensure it’s a safe food for me to eat. The true test though is to try a small amount and see how you feel. If you notice a flare up at all, such as a headache, achy joints or mood swings, then either gluten or something else in a product may be triggering a reaction. I have tried Kellogg’s Eggo Waffles and, although they didn’t trigger a reaction, I’m much more conscious of the nutrition in a product and they don’t contain enough nutrition for me to add them to my breakfast menu (and pay way more for something that isn’t filling).

You Can Eat at a Restaurant (and Enjoy It!)

Shortly after going gluten free I went to a Christian concert with friends and we ate out at Chili’s. It was a great first experience because I was thoroughly prepared. I had read about different cooking techniques many restaurants follow and knew all about cross contamination. I had also checked out the menu before getting to the restaurant. I learned to become my own advocate to ensure my food would be prepared safely and what questions to ask servers. A few months later I learned my biggest lesson of eating out when I met friends for lunch at Pizza Hut. Yeah, that sounds crazy, but Pizza Hut had just started offering a gluten free crust and I decided to get extra veggies on my pizza since I ordered the pizza without cheese. I assumed if there was gluten contamination on the veggies from also using them for regular pizzas, that it would be minimal and not a big deal. Later that night I experienced my worst gluten reaction that lasted four days and learned that making assumptions at a restaurant was a terrible idea. My favorite restaurants to go to now are Olive Garden, Cracker Barrel and Applebee’s because they understand how to properly cook gluten free food and their menus are thorough and include quite a few gluten free options.

A Year of Blessings

Going gluten free has been extremely rewarding on many levels, especially in experiencing fewer migraines and mood swings. It has required dedication and knowing who my support system is. I’m thankful for my husband who has stood by my side every step of the way, friends who have dropped off gluten free treats and made gluten free meals, family who have gone out of their way to ensure I have plenty of food to eat at gatherings (including dessert!), a workplace (GT Business Design) with great coworkers who are extremely understanding and, most of all, an awesome God who has lead me every step of my journey. This next year I am looking forward to learning more cooking techniques and adding more delicious recipes.

The Blain Family Adoption: Love Does

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Love Does. This is the message that author, humanitarian and attorney Bob Goff sends and lives by. Love always finds away and can’t be stopped by miles, oceans or limited budgets. It’s also what Areka and Jason Blain are living out and completely believe about their son who lives and China. This boy will give you a cute smile and you can pick him out of any picture, including the CNN story “‘They don’t deserve this kind of life’: Meet China’s abandoned children” about nine-year-old JiaJia at Children’s Hope International in Beijing that aired August 12, 2015. The Blain’s sweet boy in China is under two, was born with down syndrome and has spent most of his life in an orphanage, like many other kids who were born with disabilities. The Blains knew that God had placed international adoption on their heart and they also knew it could take years to fulfill. I remember when they first announced their garage sale fundraiser in summer of 2014 and it has been heartfelt and fulfilling to watch them go through this process.

Domestic adoption outside of foster care is an expensive and lengthy process, and international adoption more so when you know your son lives overseas. Areka recently shared a graphic outlining the 17 steps they have to go through – most involving paperwork. It’s not for the faint of heart and it’s certainly a sign of their commitment to God’s will. We are all God’s children and His love knows no boundaries or borders. He will jump through countless pieces of paperwork and trials to fulfill His plan at the right time.

God designed Christian community and what’s amazing to me is how God is calling so many to be part of the Blain’s adoption story. The people who donated to the garage sale last summer are part of this journey. You can become part of this too as they continue raising funds. Areka has always struck me as someone who thoroughly thinks through every process and step and it doesn’t surprise me that she is honoring China’s rich culture with this current Red Envelope Fundraiser. Choose an envelope and simply donate the number you chose! I will update the image as Areka posts a new one. Here are full details of the fundraiser, a link to their GoFundMe account and your opportunity to stay updated on their adoption story. How amazing to be part of the Blain’s story to bring their sweet boy home from China and become a family of six!

Red Envelope Fundraiser

 

What Annjenette Cole Taught Me

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When I used to think of cancer I would imagine a frail, older person who lived a long life and it somewhat made sense that this would be part of their final story. This has changed since I’ve heard of numerous young and vibrant people being diagnosed with cancer and succombing to this horrible disease. It has become normal for many cancer patients to create a bucket list or request one big wish or dream to be fulfilled. Celebrities tribute songs and visit patients in hospitals. Kids throw the first pitch at a baseball game. Moms and dads take their dream trip. You have seen the pictures and the joy on their faces. You have also seen the pictures of when they lose their hair and the hospital bed that becomes their home. You have seen the heartbreak in their families eyes as though know what’s coming far too soon.

This was part of the story of Annjenette Cole – often called Jet by her friends and family. She was 20 when she was diagnosed with aggressive liver cancer in November 2015. This shocking news didn’t divide her family or break her spirit. Something beautiful happened. They clung to God, making memories they cherished during her journey and will never forget, prayed unendingly, shared her smile with everyone, created a bucket list and relied on hugs and hope. Annjenette continued living and maybe more vibrantly than she had before.

I didn’t actually know Jet, but I feel like the parts I learned and knew about her are exactly what God intended for me. She may never have realized the full impact she had on so many people by sharing her story and journey. The impact of embracing life, living fearlessly, not letting this part of her story break her spirit and never giving up. Her smile was contagious and I can only imagine her joyful laugh.

The Cole family is a huge part of Jet’s story as they encouraged her to keep living, smiling and being herself. They never left her side and continued sharing updates and stories about what they and Jet were enduring. They helped Jet fulfill her bucket list and invited so many people to become part of the journey. Family flew in, people offered prayers and donated money, friends shared Jet’s story through social media and posted encouraging messages. I have gained a new perspective of cancer. Despite how much it takes, cancer changes the hearts of so many and can bring families closer together.

When I think of cancer I see bravery. People who can bravely face each day and moment knowing the pain and discomfort they know will be there when they awaken if they find a way to fall asleep. Annjenette taught me that you can still smile in the face of adversity. You can still be present in remarkable ways. You can still embrace love, hope and all things good despite knowing your final breath will come soon.

Annjennette faught hard and lived big. She breathed her final breath on September 10, 2015 at age 21. This is the final chapter of her earthly body, but her spirit will continue to live on. Here is a tribute compiled by Michael Turner that will give you a small glimpse of Jet’s journey.

For the Love of Perfection

 

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I read a lot of books, but I don’t finish all of them. I used to think this was horrible and I was somehow breaking an unwritten law stating I would never be able to read another book unless I finished every single one page of every miserable book. I embraced the freedom from closing Mansfield Park by Jane Austin for good and decided barely getting through the movie was good enough. Books that enter the hallowed circle of “fully read” meet this criteria: they include a decent amount of humor, make me think, are edgy without being raunchy and are well-written without annoying grammar mistakes. One of the best books I have read in a long time that exceeds this criteria is the new book For the Love by Jen Hatmaker. I was hooked after reading the first few pages of the first chapter “Worst Beam Ever.”

Here’s how it starts:

“Balance. It’s like a unicorn; we’ve heard about it, everyone talks about it and makes airbrushed T-shirts celebrating it, it seems super rad, but we haven’t actually seen one. I’m beginning to think it isn’t a thing.

Here is part of the problem, girls: we’ve been sold a bill of goods. Back in the day, women didn’t run themselves ragged trying to achieve some impressively developed life in eight different categories. No one constructed fairy-tale childhoods for their spawn, developed an innate set of personal talents, fostered a stimulating and world-changing career, created stunning homes and yardscapes, provided homemade food for every meal (locally sourced, of course), kept all marriage fires burning, sustained meaningful relationships in various environments, carved out plenty of time for “self care,” served neighbors/church/world, and maintained a fulfilling, active relationship with Jesus our Lord and Savior.

You can’t balance that job description.”

The first time (and second and third times) I read this I laugh and was inspired because I realized that God was not calling me to be perfect and my family was not demanding it either – it was all me. I was so immersed in this circle of Pinterest perfection and felt like the growing cracks of spreading myself too thin would soon swallow up my hundreds (okay, thousands) of unstarted Pinterest masterpieces. I used to beat myself up over our jungle-like landscaping that I have no clue how to maintain, boring dinners that didn’t follow 10-course meal standards (even though my family could care less), and the crazy birthday details for my daughters first two birthday parties that she won’t remember. These are not the only areas of perfection I was failing to achieve.

See, I just made you think about all outlandish expectations and titles you have been trying to cram on your beam that you haven’t been able to balance for years. My beam has never been in balance (queue memories of juggling 40-hour work weeks with a semester of 21 credits in college). Motherhood didn’t suddenly make me lose my balance – I never had it in the first place. Yes, this is why the book For the Love is fitting for people – yes, probably mainly women – in any season of life.

While pondering my beam, I thought about what I had pushed off my beam while juggling the obligations that probably shouldn’t have been there in the first place. I used to put things like a clean house and an over-extended work schedule (which is in a much better balance now) in front of relationships. We all need people, but no one likes to be around someone who seems “perfect” because they know it’s not who the person really is. I’ve learned that keeping relationships (healthy ones) on my beam means my people will see the mess and even bring me coffee and treats because it makes the mess and chaos seem more manageable. A few months ago a dear friend of mine said she was worried about the hectic schedule I was trying to maintain. Instead of brushing her off and letting her know that I had everything handled (real friends can see through it anyways!), I thanked her and immediately started pushing a few deadlines and taking some things off my beam because I knew she was right. This is what relationships are about, not maintaining perfection so we can pridefully say, “Look at what I did,” while running on coffee steams and no sleep.

Stop. Just stop and think about your friends who will let you know they are worried about you. They encourage you to leave the mess and take a break and they even feed you. These are your people. This is your community. Really? Community doesn’t sound so complicated anymore as it did at one time. Thank you Jen Hatmaker for pointing this out and not being afriad of starting the Supper Club many years ago. You will have to buy the book to learn more because Jen explains it way better than I can and I’m pretty sure I’ll be slapped with a lawsuit over plagiarism if I just copy and paste the entire book here.

I’ll leave you with this one last thought from Jen: “The only thing worse than this unattainable standard is the guilt that follows when perfection proves impossible.” Perfection IS impossible, so let me do you a favor and kick it off the beam for you.

For the Love Book Giveaway!

Check out these lovely blogs for a chance to win your own copy of this awesome book!

www.anotherhousewife.com

www.melindamattson.com

www.lifespruceblog.com

www.thissweetlybrokenlife.com

www.bedrocksandborderlands.com

www.sipofbrandy.com

www.loveofdixie.com

adoptingnations.blogspot.com

diaryofazookeeper.blogspot.com

www.beckyyurisich.com

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What, Your Opinion Is Not My Opinion?

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Part of my morning included me telling my husband about an article I had read about whether gluten-free Cheerios are safe or not to eat for people with Celiac disease. He immediately said, “I don’t buy it.” This meant he didn’t believe what the article was claiming. (He fully supports me living a gluten-free lifestyle as I’m sure he can attest to me being less cranky.) I was shocked and immediately felt offended. Jumping to the defense (because we know that this article is like the gluten-free Bible – sarcasm intended), I started building my argument and quickly realized this was going into argument territory. I went back into the kitchen and started loading my breakfast dishes into the dishwasher, still highly annoyed and offended. He came in and said, “This is just my opinion, why are you so upset?” Okay, I really didn’t have an answer, so I had to ponder.

Here’s what I’ve determined – I get offended when my husband doesn’t share the same opinion as me on something I am passionate about. It drives me crazy because I want us to see eye-to-eye on what we are both passionate about and it seems to rarely happen. Not only do I become offended, but I assume his “offensive” opinion means he isn’t supporting me. Normally, our varying opinions have nothing to do with life and death matters and we are surprisingly on the same page when it comes to the important stuff, like disciplining our sassy child who prays for snow year-round even though we live in Michigan.

Other People’s Differing Opinions Offend Me Too

I realize that I do this with other people too. I assume that someone else’s differing opinion means it’s time to quietly bow out from discussing said topic. Yup, this seems even crazier now that I’m writing it and not at all what God has intended through His diverse creation. I believe having differing opinions can be a blessing, but you have to allow free flowing communication and refrain from just getting completely offended and assuming the other person is attacking you. My question is this: How do you deal with differing opinions with those in your household, especially when it’s your spouse? 

I’m ready to gain some Christian perspective and see if others find themselves in this opinionated dilemma. Help me!

photo credit: Sunset Ride via photopin (license)

Working and Planning a Wedding

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“I’m going to a wedding,” announced my three-year-old daughter with her Elsa dress and play high heels on. “Oh yeah? Who’s wedding?” I said looking up from the article I was writing with a smile and giving her my full attention. “My wedding!” she declared with a bright smile dancing in her eyes. Playing along, I replied, “Who are you marrying?” I figured she would say Clayton, the teen aged hockey-playing son of our daycare provider. He is sweet with kids and always has time to tickle her. “Myself!” she declared and I couldn’t stop from laughing. Anika always keeps us on our toes and often replies with the opposite of what we expect or, like in this case, something entirely different. “Brenda and Adrian can come, but you can’t,” she continued. “Why not?” I said in an empathetic voice, “Can daddy come? We want to be at your wedding and would be really sad not to see you get married.” She thought for two seconds and said, “Well, I guess so, but there aren’t any chairs left.” Her voice lowered as she said this empathetically, truly sensing the sadness in my voice. This dialogue made me smile and feel sad at the same time. I cannot even imagine what I will feel when she eventually does get married some day. This kid is dreaming big and often carries our wedding photos around and excitedly tells us about our wedding day, even though she wasn’t around yet.

Anika also informed me that there will be treats – cake, brownies and ice cream, but it won’t be gluten free. I love the moments when she shares her vivid imagination that comes during the funniest times. Sometimes she cuts in while I’m talking to her daddy. Other times she interrupts Chelsea from our favorite coffee shop (you know, the one with gummies and a pond). Today she was interrupting while I wrote an article on my tablet while sitting on the couch. Working at home with her is a work in progress with frustrating moments of interruptions, but I can’t imagine running her to daycare every day. Her wedding plans at age three – which she will talk about for the next six months and most likely remember them when she’s planning her real wedding 40 years from now – are the reason why being a stay at home working mom are a blast. I truly cherish it and remember the good times when I stumble through her toys decorating the living room and hear, “Mom, I made a mess!”

Lately, people have complimented me on balancing home and work and I just laugh. I don’t feel very balanced, but I see how God has guided everything. I used to focus on more technical writing and learned that certain types of writing are easier to do and more fulfilling as this point with a kid at home. God has blessed me richly and I’m excited to work every day, even on the days that I know will be challenging as soon as I wake up. This journey of blending work and being a mom certainly hasn’t been easy, but I know writing is my calling. I’ve always processed things in story form – I used to think everyone did this, but learned that isn’t the case. I wrote stories as a kid. Writing makes everything clear and makes life easier to sort through.

What is your passion? Think you have to put it on hold while you raise a family? I don’t believe that or I would have given up on writing long ago. I truly believe that God places certain desires on our hearts because He knows that they are the most rewarding. Living out your dreams requires work, determination, some late nights and lots of coffee. God doesn’t give us dreams that we can’t achieve.
photo credit: Tiara via photopin (license)

Do You Remember Your Last School Bus Ride?

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My three-year-old daughter Anika has quite the fascination was buses and has been begging to ride one. This week happens to be Cherry Festival in Traverse City and it’s more than greasy food and over-priced sweatshirts down by the water. After living here for six years, I’m finally learning exactly what encompasses this national community festival and why I should care. Most activities I check out revolve around free activities to experience with my daughter. We went to the Teddy Bear Tea and tried stealing the Cherry Queen’s teddy bear, rode rides at the carnival after paying way too much for a few tickets, paid for $3 water, played with cherry pits, sand and blocks at the Kids Zone and even had cherries painted on Anika’s cheek. A friend mentioned the cherry farm tour and how much fun their entire family had the previous year so I decided to check it out and we waited for the free bus shuttle to the farm.

I explained to Anika the rules of riding a bus and she carefully walked up the giant steps and picked out the seat she wanted to sit in. We buckled up – I did too because that’s just what you do when a three-year-old copies everything you do. I haven’t ridden a school bus since high school and was pleasantly surprised by the comfortable seats and air conditioning. Bumping down the road we chatted about every single thing Anika noticed – red emergency exit sign on the right side of the bus, square emergency exit sign on the ceiling, red emergency exist sign on the left side of the bus, the water dripping down outside the windows from the air conditioning, the metal siding inside the bus, why Lake Michigan is outside the window, why the grandpa sitting in front of us moved up to sit by his granddaughters, why we have to wear a seatbelt. Anika pointed out every single detail she saw and heard and I glanced up at the windows and was immediately taken back to my childhood days of riding a school bus twice a day.

Remember when school buses were sticky hot and seemed to take forever to arrive at your bus stop? One way to experience relief from this sweltering mess was by squeezing the tabs at the top of the window as hard as possible and praying it would slide down or it wasn’t broken. We also didn’t have seatbelts and I happened to have the same bus driver for at least five years so I couldn’t pretend to not know that you had to sit still while the bus was moving. Riding the bus was fun when I was little – especially when you had a note with special permission from your parents to ride the bus home with a friend. I hated riding the bus as I grew older after experiencing the freedom of having an older brother who didn’t mind dropping my off at a friend’s house so we could walk to school. Eventually my brother graduated and I had to take another turn at riding the bus until finding someone else with a car. I often counted down the days to when I could say goodbye to the long bus ride home.

I don’t remember my last bus ride and I know I didn’t think about it being my last one at the time and certainly wasn’t too grateful for free transportation. Now as a parent, I’m in a season of experiencing many firsts with Anika. It was fun being part of her first bus ride – even when her three-year-old self who was overly hot, sticky and tired on the way back filled the clean bus air with complaints. I don’t want to think about the years a ways from now when the firsts now will be the lasts – the last piggy back ride because her legs are tired (we call them horse rides), the last toddler bike ride (instead of the stroller), the last visit to the Kid’s Zone because she’s a big kid, the last tantrum because that would embarrass her. I will soak in these firsts and try to remember to be grateful for these hard days with a three-year-old because time quickly passes. It’s been 10 years since my last bus ride and I’m thankful now for having Mrs. Carpenter as a bus driver for five years and even enduring her singing happy birthday to every kid in that weird and silly voice.

The farm was a blast, by the way, and something we’ll do every year from now on. Maybe next year Anika will handle eating a cherry and seeing how far she can spit the pit. We’ll see if I remember the last time she finally says, “I don’t like the cherry!”

Yes, I’ll Pay You To Let Me Race A Mile!

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Pictured: me racing my last mile at the conference invite May 2005. I won the race that day. It was also the day we learned that our athletic trainer Mr. Carr lost his battle to cancer.

Today I am racing a mile. It’s a simple mile on a flat road. I received an email newsletter Tuesday that stopped me in my tracks and I quickly paid my $12 to race. You couldn’t pay most people to run a mile (like my husband), so why in the world am I so excited to pay someone else so I can run a race on a road that I can run on any given day? The last mile I raced was 10 years ago when I was a senior in high school. I ran my fastest time (my P.R.) that last race – 5:28. I assumed that I would continue running and didn’t imagine it would take me so long to race the mile again. I went to college and a month before cross country practice started I decided not to run. It wasn’t easy and I regret not running in college, but I just didn’t see how going to school, working, cross country practice and traveling would work. Fast forward and the past four years I’ve been on a crazy health journey, along with quitting my full time job, starting a business and being a mom and wife. Seven months ago I confirmed having celiac disease and decided to jump into exercise at a level I haven’t seen since high school. I’m blessed to have the time and opportunity to run again and now my body can handle it.

I was planning on running the 5K race this Saturday at the Cherry Festival, but due to taking time off from training due to being sick and randomly cutting my foot last week, I knew I would have to wait until next year. The email I read Tuesday invited me to run the Community Mile, while it is held right before the High School Mile and Ellite Mile races. This is the first time they have ever offered the Community Mile and I knew I was supposed to run it. I quickly signed up and then the crazy thoughts of “Oh crap, am I actually in shape for this” and “Why now?” started creeping in. A few months ago I told a friend I would probably never be as great of a runner as I used to be, but deep down I knew those were words of defeat and not truth. I’m following my heart on this mile and I know it’s time to get to the next level in running – whatever it may be. I’ve always had a passion to coach running, but never taken the opportunity fearing I wasn’t good enough as a runner. I feel like that’s just a silly thought and I know I could be a great coach. I also know the first step is to go outside my current comfort zone and just push a little further and run a little harder.

Yesterday I drove to a local high school and ran a few intervals. It confirmed my passion for running, but my mission for running now is so different than it was in high school. I was out to prove I could do something all by myself in high school and now I want to use running to fulfill whatever God has planned. You know when you just know when God is guiding you and it doesn’t really make sense, but you can help but keeping moving forward? This sunk in as I lengthened my stride around the red track while football players practiced and the marching band played on. God’s bringing this part of my past and present together and I’m so grateful.

My P.R. for the mile is 5:29, but I’m not on a mission to break that record just yet – maybe some day. For now, my goal is to lean into God when my body is tired and I need the strength to finish strong. Let’s hope and pray to break 6:30 today! Phillipains 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

I’m No Longer a Performance Christian

I’ve recently come to terms with the fact that God doesn’t call me to do everything. Nope, He calls me to do very little actually, compared to everything that He does. I grew up with the performance mentality that demands as a wife and mother I’m a gourmet cook and baker, my house is in perfect order, all the grocery shopping is completed in family outings or everything we eat is grown in a garden and our meat is raised on a farm, our decorations create a warm and inviting feel and are made in my crafting area that is always organized. Performance mode dictates that I run a business that meets every writing, editing, social media and strategy need of every client and work at all hours without time for myself. Oh and it doesn’t end there! As a friend, my performance mentality states that I need to make a meal every single time someone is sick, has a baby or is enduring a lot of stress. I’m also expected to visit everyone in the hospital, volunteer at every program at church and make it to every single Bible study. This is just a short list because what I’m expected to do should just continues to grow, right? Performance mode is, at it’s best (and worst), demanding I do all of these things so I look like an acceptable Christian. I seriously lived in this mentality for far too long and it was living a “Christian” life without Christ. Sure, making a meal for someone who is sick is absolutely a nice thing to do, but God may not actually be calling me to do the cooking. I have learned that I cannot live out God’s will by living in expectations and basing my faith and salvation on my performance. You want to know a secret? God loves me because He created me and He didn’t call me to be all of the things above. NOPE!

Discovering God’s Calling
So, what did God call me to do? God created my desires and passions and understands them far better than I do. I’m passionate about running, writing and cooking, besides being a wife and mother. There are other things too at different seasons of life, but these are the main ones! God called me to write and it has not been easy or fun every single moment, but I know deep down that He can work through me in a way that is unique to the talents that He has blessed me with. Writing is on my priority list, but not everything from the list above can be if God is leading me to be a writer, wife, mother and friend. Most importantly, God is calling me to follow where He leads. Sometimes this means making a meal or focusing on a house project or spending time making a card. This doesn’t mean I need to make a five-course gourmet meal, repaint and rearrange my entire house or spend three hours perfecting a card. It’s not really about what I do – it’s about what’s in my heart while I’m doing these things that matters the most. This comes out in the attitude I have while checking things off my to-do list. It means I become intentional about my time and don’t let myself worry about what other people will think. God wants my heart aligned with Him.

Yes, It’s Biblical
Romans 12:3-8 “3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.”

The scripture above states that God calls people to do different things and this applies at all levels. We are all part of the body of Christ, but no one person is the entire body of Christ. I think about the many moms I know and how different we all are. Some are crafty and easily create birthday parties and cute after nap activities for their kids while they are stay at home moms. Others were born with a talent to cook anything and their kids eat every single bite. Still other moms have an incredible ability to balance home life and work life and they are thriving. Knowing what I’m not called to do is just as important as following God’s calling.

Living This Out
I absolutely love helping others, but I often struggle finding the time to add extra to-do’s on my list. I realized that it’s really challenging to help out in certain ways when you have a child to take care of and entertain while running errands. Living out God’s calling means I can’t volunteer to physically be everywhere, but I can use the talents of writing to bring to light what other Christians are doing. I can guide churches and ministries in how to effectively communicate their missions and updates through various communications. I can run races to raise money for different causes. Living this out also means I’m letting go of the expectations I often put on myself while embracing how God is guiding me using what He has already blessed me with.

photo credit: Pheasant Hunt 2007 via photopin (license)

Wipe Clean, Rearrange and Declutter My House and Spirit

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As you know from my post These Dishes Are Killing Me! one of my joys in life does not include doing the dishes or cleaning! Sure, I love a clean space and often carry expectations of keeping the house picked up and clean and I feel stress creeping in when clutter seems to be multiplying. My biggest problem is I try to cram in too many tasks in the allotted time left over from other important things. I’m striving to change some habits here and it means more than just checking things off a to-do list. It means learning how much time it takes to clean up – and do a really good job. It means realizing what we need to purge so there is less to clean up. It means finding ways to like cleaning more.

This morning while putting away the clean dishes and reloading the breakfast ones I noticed the crockpot on the table I have been meaning to put away. I wiped off the sides and carried it to it’s home in the cupboard. Then I noticed the coffee grinder sitting on the counter that I have been meaning to clean out so I can grind up some almonds to make homemade almond milk and flour. I turned around and the boxes of gluten free flour spoke to me and I cleared off the space I have been telling myself I will for a month. I find the directions to the Elsa doll that we don’t need – in the trash they go. Two cups hiding behind the boxes of flour – in the dishwasher they go. I wipe off the now clear countertops and happen to glance up and notice the space that should be white under the cabinets are specled! What! How in the world did we get splashes of food underneath?

Through these thoughts jumping around I began thinking about the time this is taking to do a good job and be mindful of the hidden spaces that need to be thoroughly cleaned to – and more than once over time. Cleaning my kitchen is not the only thing that needs to be wiped clean, rearranged and decluttered. Life can be full of clutter of past hurts and baggage. It takes time for God to do a good job and it’s impossible to rearrange and let go when I’m running from task to task to task. Many of these tasks seem like “have to’s” because I want to help out and do my part. The question God has been asking me lately is “Why? Am I enough?” As in, why am I overloading my schedule with “have to’s” and seemingly running from obligation to obligation to please someone else? “Am I enough?” The answer is not simple or quick and He doesn’t demand an answer, unlike obligations for others. He wants this to sink in because I have chosen to let go of a life lived for others and truly live for God. Over the last year God has been trimming down my schedule and I am grateful and blessed. I don’t need to have social obligations four nights a week to feel loved – yup, that was crazy! I don’t need to work until 3 a.m. writing to earn a paycheck – God is blessing my work in many ways, including a steady paycheck, but I have had to let go. Let go of certain clients and projects that were draining. Trust that I have enough time during my day to complete what God has called me to do.

I have learned that usually that the stress in a circumstance is not the true reality of a situation. Ponder why you are stressed and let God show you areas you need to rearrange, let go of and wipe clean. This is how God has breathed more truth into my life. It’s hard work and takes time, but the blessings of a clean spirit will lead you from making unnecessary obligations and overextending what He is calling you to do.

Another thing I realized is that since cleaning my kitchen takes time, it’s okay that it’s not completely cleaned in one setting or even by the end of the day, especially with the distrations and interruptions that naturally happen with a three-year-old by my side. She is learning and has a passion to help. This brings many twists and turns into the picture and I reflect on how I bring those same twists and turns into the picture when God is trying to rearrange, wipe clean and declutter me. I’m giving myself permission to take the time to let God in and I invite you to do the same too!

photo credit: Apex Cottage White Kitchen via photopin (license)

Celiac / Gluten Reaction

This post was originally written on April 17, 2015.

All week I have been battling my body. It didn’t start out big, just feeling off after enjoying an awesome lunch with my girlfriends and inhaling gluten free pizza from Pizza Hut. There is always a risk of cross contamination when you go out and this time it happened. I felt tired and just “off” the rest of the day and part of the next day. I felt my body trying to fight off some sort of infection so I cuddled up to my coconut oil. The infection is about gone – God makes some pretty amazing natural antibiotics people! Yesterday I ate a few dried peaches and realized the sugar count was crazy so I didn’t have many. I also had a migraine yesterday and took medicine. Today my body ached. Roaring inflammation, joint pain, anxiety, tiredness. Then I remembered the peaches. I checked the package and they state absolutely nothing about being gluten free. I’m past beating myself up when I eat something I shouldn’t have because my body reacts to a lot. Gluten. Dairy. Refined sugar. High fructose corn syrup. Overly processed anything. The question of what to eat is often on my mind, along with budgeting the food I do have so I don’t fly through it. Goat cheese is a favorite, but at $5 or more for a 5 ounce container, it occasionally makes it in the basket.

I’m blessed because I now know I don’t have the flu, which is what a celiac reaction feels like for me plus mix in a migraine that medicine doesn’t always touch. I’m blessed because my hubby gets it – he understands I’m not trying to push him away, but touch is painful. I’m blessed that this has been the worst reaction in four months which is actually a good sign. I’m blessed to have friends who care and are more interested in spending time with me than making sure I try their new dinner invention. I’m blessed because God guides me through this in quiet, gentle ways: craving cherries (natural antioxidant), crazy desire to garden (fresh veggies on hand), realizing the battles of the mind are taken to a whole new level when you don’t feel good, loved through my little girl who looked in my eyes and said , “Mommy, you are being so nice to me” after feeling like I was just battling my brain telling me everything was annoying, showing me that patience is worth fighting for. I’m blessed and know that if I didn’t have this battle to fight then it would be something else and I’m not sure I could face or win something like cancer or being a single parent or being away from my little crew.

Having celiac disease is hard, but it has taught me how to take care of this amazing body gave me, to be considerate of others who are suffering but don’t look sick, how to control what’s going into your body. The biggest thing I have learned so far is how God fills you with strength when the mundane tasks I often take for granted, like making dinner, seem impossible. I’m thankful that I don’t feel this way all the time and for how God has shown me His grace during periods of rest and sleepless nights.

Coffee Monster

My heart is heavy and I am so disgusted. Ever realize there is something you have been doing – it’s become a way of life and you CAN’T live without – that you absolutely have to change. The last few years I have had to change a tremendous number of things about my diet. No dairy. No gluten. No high fructose corn syrup. More recently, no corn syrup and a few months ago I went on a strictly gluten free diet. I’ve heard whispers in my brain that I have often ignored. I now realize it’s this built-in compass that God created to help me navigate. I should go running – no brain, it’s too cold and too windy and I’m too tired. Lately, my brain has started screaming at me because I need to cut caffeine. Okay, I’m listening, but I absolutely don’t like it. It’s 1 a.m. and I can’t sleep. I currently have a heart monitor on because I’ve experienced some unsettling episodes with my heart over the past few months. Enough for me to go to the doctor three times now – that’s three times more than I have gone in the past three years. I’m physically tired all the time and feeling more irritable all the time too. Coffee has been my happy place. My pick me up. My I can do anything drink. I know I’m addicted to it, but I have brushed it off for so long since I don’t consume what so many others live on. No pop. No alcohol. No cigarettes. Is this addiction of mine really that bad?

Coffee has turned into a monster. I turn to it when I’m exhausted or feeling like I just need something to get me through my day. It helps me deal more patiently with my strong-willed daughter (bless her). It takes off the edge of stress and helps me feel better. Is this addiction of mine really that bad? I have been reading the book Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. It has rocked my world on many levels, including the lack of boundaries I have had in taking care of myself. My family is fed with clean clothes and the extra million things on my to-do list that are so important are checked off. I’m exhausted because I didn’t eat or drink enough (except coffee) and can’t remember the last time I went for a run. This was normal for me and still is to an extent. I realized I needed to get more sleep a year or so ago (goodbye working until 3 a.m.). My spirit was craving to be fed and I still thirst for spiritual food. I’ve learned to balance taking in spiritual foods, but I feel like the rest of my life is out of control. I don’t feel compelled to take care of everyone else before myself anymore, but I’m realizing that I don’t have great boundaries for taking care of me. My body has clearly been screaming at me for in taking too much caffeine and I haven’t listened. It’s screamed at me for not exercising enough and I haven’t listened. I feel so far away from my goals and the really athletic person I used to be seems a lifetime away. My body rocks though and I know that I can bounce back and get into shape again, for now. I started reading Hosea and this verse really made me feel the guilt and shame (in a good way) of what I have been doing. Hosea 4:6 “…Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you as my priests;…” Ouch. I know the information about the affects of caffeine have been starring me in the face. I wrote an article in college about the negative affects of caffeine and how you can increase your energy more by increasing your level of exercise. I recognized a while ago that the amount of coffee (not decaf people) affects my heart rate. A friend invited me to a health seminar over a month ago and a lot of the information was stuff I had already learned over the past few years, but I mentally wrote off the recommendation to cut back and even eliminate tea and coffee. “Because you have rejected knowledge.” How else would you describe what I have been doing? “I also reject you as my priests…” Ouch. God is in the business of repeating and He has been speaking to me for a few years now about ways to improve my health because He cares and knows that I can’t possibly take care of anyone else if I don’t first take care of myself.

I have a huge responsibility to take care of myself and God is revealing to me how to do this through the various pieces of information I research and write about, conversations with friends, messages from church, songs and so many other ways. I often think about what I want to teach my daughter and I can’t possibly teach her how to have a balanced life that includes taking care of herself or even listening to God if I don’t do this first. Cutting coffee is the last thing I want to do, especially in a very busy season of my life right now, but I can’t afford not to. I’m not looking forward to it because I know it will involve pain. My brain tells me that I don’t have time for a migraine and all I will want to do is sleep and I will be irritable. I know the reward will be worth it. I know that I can only do this with God’s help and He will help me through.

I Will NOT Be a Writer When I Grow Up

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I have been fighting a huge battle my entire life. This battle started when I was about five and continued until very recently. I wouldn’t say I’ve conquered this fight, but God is now fighting for me and helping me chip away. Satan fed me so many lies that prevented me from even trying to fight at times. I wasn’t good enough. I couldn’t read well enough. I wasn’t a good public speaker. I wouldn’t make any money. I can’t. God started planting a seed deep inside at an early age that took root and formed a strong foundation for me to become a writer and Satan has been battling me ever since. For every success there is a lie Satan has ready. I’m a bit wiser now and I laugh at those lies and often choose to ignore them.

Here’s a tiny glimpse of how fighting being a writer has worked out for me.

Age 5: I was so proud to write my first sentences and ran to show my daddy. He said, “That’s good, but you didn’t put spaces between the words so you can’t read it.” He was trying to teach me, as dad’s often do, but I was crushed. I’ve always had a fight inside so I went back and practiced until I had the spacing issue perfected.

5th Grade: The beginning of the year I set my heart on writing a story that would win the talent show that I knew would be toward the end of the school year. The entire time I worked on it I believed the lie that I couldn’t possibly share the story because I didn’t know enough and writing wasn’t really a talent because it’s not like singing and dancing. Yeah, I closed that dream and longingly watched the other performers capture the audience.

8th Grade: I took Journalism as one of my elective classes and my teacher offered me the position of editor-in-chief. I felt so inadequate, but my confidence grew because she believed in me and I had an amazing time! Thank you Mrs. Vibbert.

12th Grade: Senior year arrived and I had all the credits for my core classes, so I opted for easy classes. My schedule for the year was comprised of five English classes (thanks for putting up with such a close-minded student Mrs. Nichols), a student aide position and two FFA-related courses. Yup, I opted for an easy year, but it was a great year! I thoroughly enjoyed all my English classes and FFA set my career path, although I wouldn’t come to realize this for another year. Thanks Mr. Henry and Ms. Engle.

College Freshman: I was still on a path to prove I could do anything and I was smart, so I enrolled as a chemical engineering student at Michigan Tech, which only increased my tuition bill since I broke so many beakers and flasks. I wrote pretty reports and one of the engineering professors was confused by my question about formatting specifications for the final report. Remember the FFA course I took to fill time my senior year? We won a state competition in, of all things, communication and I found myself on a plane with a week off from college to compete at the National FFA Convention. I returned to college after that week and realized it was time to change my major to communication. I enjoyed technical information and the nitty gritty details and knew deep down that this was the right path for me. About 90% of degrees included the term “science” or “technology” since I was at a technical college, so I chose scientific and technical communication. I wasn’t sure about it at first because the classes were easy – funny how things may seem easy when you thoroughly enjoy them!

After all that you’d think I would have finally realized my true calling to become a writer. Far from true! I still wasn’t a confident writer when I landed my first job as a project manager and proposal writer. I could handle technical writing, but absolutely knew I would NOT be a creative writer. Again, it’s funny how I now love adding creativity into my writing and still pull from the technical, detailed side.

So thankful that God is in the business of repeating things to me. I connect so many dots and life becomes so much clearer when I write. I’ve surrendered my fears and am allowing God to work through me as a writer. Nothing could be more fulfilling for my soul. It completes me and connects me. My family often provides the content ideas, bless them and it does pay the bills. Are you fighting your calling?

I’m Out of Control and Happy!

I'm Out of Control and Happy!

I like to think that I have everything in control at times. Having dinner planned and all the ingredients empowers me and I have confidence to be a chef in those rare moments. Getting up early enough to make breakfast, slowly enjoy a cup of tea and read a short devotional before my family begins to stir empowers me. Going on a long run and not feeling as though my lungs are about to collapse empowers me to tackle any mountainous task immediately after I’m done running (okay, this may only last for about 15 minutes, but running still gives me the feeling of power). A balance physically, emotionally and spiritually empowers me to keep striving forward in helping bring balance to my hubby and daughter.

There was a time (and it still comes out as a monster at times) when I HAD to be in control. Stress city followed me everywhere if the tiniest thing went wrong. My schedule was maxed out to prove that I could handle it. College was a blur because I was so focused on studying and working that I didn’t often take time to experience and breath. I was in control, so working 40 hours over five jobs while taking 21 credits was doable – while planning my wedding and handling bridesmaid duties for a friend’s wedding. Control and stress spewed everywhere I went. I shot evil glances at a classmate who was setting her boundaries on how much she could handle. I rolled my eyes at another classmate who always “wasted” my time by talking about things unrelated to group project. I was highly annoyed when some classmates just couldn’t grasp something that was so easy to understand. I didn’t often “waste” time at the coffee shop and the only form of exercise involve marathon running at Olympic paces.

I had everything figured out and thought that I must be a good Christian because I was never wasting time. I never took a break or relaxed and certainly didn’t need anyone to help me, although I craved deep and meaningful friends with other women, but never had time. I graduated with three internships, honors and a semester ahead since I accepted an extended internship under my belt. My graduation day wasn’t as joyful as I had thought it would be. I had just gone with the motions for so long that I was saddened deep inside and started to realize that relationships and experiences are what matter the most. Does the outcome really matter all that much if you just set out to prove you can accomplish something and learn nothing along the way? I know singers who would have amazing singing careers, but they have chosen to use their gifts to honor God in other ways. If the goal is always to reach the “greatest” outcome in human standards, then does that mean we are sub par if the “best” doesn’t happen? I held onto the dream of becoming an Olympic runner for so long, but it was obvious this wasn’t going to happen and I clearly wasn’t set on a path to achieve this – God had more important things for me to do, but my mindset was still set on reaching the highest level possible.

I’m out of control and I’m so in love with life and the relationships I have and am fostering. God has my back and has taught me that the process of reaching a goal is far more important than the final outcome. I’m no longer out to prove that I’m the best and am so grateful for this! I can only imagine how I might have enjoyed life had I learned this long ago. Around my house we believe in do-overs, trying again and finding a new way to solve a problem. My daughter is catching onto this and it’s a beautiful process. She’s learning that she doesn’t have to be in control since mommy doesn’t have to be in control. Feeling empowered is a huge blessing from God and I feel it’s one of His ways he speaks confidence in me.

Get Real for the Love!

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My life changed a week ago. I didn’t move, win the lottery, adopt a child, hire a cleaning maid or give up coffee. My kid is healthy and so is my hubby – yeah, I still don’t see him much due to tax season, but that’s normal for another five weeks. I wasn’t in a car accident, no one close to me died and I certainly haven’t broken a leg slipping on ice (yet). I didn’t win the title as Iron Chef, Top Model or Sharp Shooter. I certainly didn’t win American Idol or The Voice, although in my dreams I’m a gourmet pastry chef who indulges in gluten-smothered treats, sings on broadway and runs marathons. My house is still standing and I still love the goldfish cluttering the floor of my Rendevous (no mommy van for me!). I still visit my favorite coffee shop often – my three-year-old orders for me.

How in the heck did my life change? By a completely random-to-me-but-planned-by-God-kind-of-moment, I was selected to be part of Jen Hatmaker’s launch team with 499 other instant mommy friends – okay, there are a few fellas in the mix too – for her new book called For the Love. It was Christmas, my birthday and a mega mommy break realizing I not only get to geek out with other Christian bloggers, but I get to laugh out loud, cry and pee my pants at the same time as I read the honest, real and genuine life of Jen. I can say I’m glad I’m not in her brain 24/7 because I’m pretty sure I would be bursting with things I couldn’t get away with saying in a down to earth sense of humor way that makes life louder and more fun. I’m still working on the fun part, but I’m am completely loving getting to live vicariously through such a hillarious soul.

I have made many connections with the people in this group, especially since there are at least 150 other bloggers. This book has instantly connected us all through what may seem situations that I thought I was alone in previously. My lips are zipped, but I will keep laughing and rereading this book way past it’s launch date this coming August. I have the opportunity to submit a testimonial that may be printed in the final version, but I’m just thankful I get a sneak peak to bask in this Christian book and get to know Jen Hatmaker before I attend MOMcon 2015 later this fall.

Jen’s humor drives home some important lessons that are very relatable as a Christian woman and mom since she has chosen to maintain a busy career and be an active mom to her five kiddos. Yes, this is the same crazy lady (in a good way, I PROMISE) who has a new show coming out on HGTV called “My Big Family Renovation”.

Although I have 499 other Christian women and men to share this experience with, I HIGHLY encourage you to pre-order your copy because I guarantee it will sell out quickly when you finally have your chance to endulge in the pages while ignoring the state of your house and sending the kids to play next door in August. I will be giving away copies as well, but you can ensure your copy is shipped or ebook is downloaded to your Kindle by preordering it. Think about how awesome of a present it will be to yourself when you receive it after completely forgetting you ordered it months ago – hello mommy brain. Plus, you will finally understand the new lingo that’s part of my daily language.

Thank you Jen, for this opportunity and continuing to be true to the woman and author created you to be.

3 Things That Knock Me Off Balance – Guest Post by Author Beth Vogt

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Here’s an up close and personal glimpse of my life:

It’s time to write about balancing writing and real life. Instead, I end up sitting on my bedroom floor, crying and telling my husband, “I can’t do this.”

Perfect time to write about how I manage my life.

Not.

But that angst-filled moment, caused by juggling too many “musts” and feeling as if I’d dropped every single one of them, helped me step back and evaluate what knocks me off balance:

• Tension
• Exhaustion
• Comparison

Tension
I don’t know what causes you to clench your jaw or why your neck muscles stiffen. For me, it’s having to make choices. The most difficult choices are when I have to decide between two competing values. I love my family and want to spend time with them. I also appreciate that my publisher offered me a contract for my destination wedding series. Now I’m on deadline and I have to choose: Do I spend time with my family or do I hang with the imaginary characters in my life? Saying yes to one means saying no to the other.

Finding Balance: I have to choose – if I don’t, nothing gets done. Reality: A no now isn’t a no forever. Family and friends understand I’m on deadline. As author Elisabeth Elliot said, “To choose to do this is to choose not to do a thousand other things.”

Exhaustion
If you Google-search “importance of sleep,” in less than a second you’ll pull up 153 million links explaining all the reasons you need your rest. In the past five years, I’ve battled vertigo, back problems, and a frozen shoulder. (I now refer to my right shoulder as Olaf, in honor of the snowman in the movie Frozen. Gotta have a sense of humor.) Dealing with chronic pain has wrecked my sleep. There are days I am sleep-deprived and, consequently, not efficient or effective. Can I make my body heal faster? No.

Finding Balance: I fight for rest. I’m a lifelong proponent of naps. I also find the early morning hours, when everyone else is sleeping, are productive writing times. And some days I just admit I’m tired, asking God for strength to make it through the day.  “Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him …” (Psalm 37:7 NASB).

Comparison
It’s challenging enough to try and meet all the “shoulds” and “musts” I place on myself. But there are times I look at what other writers are accomplishing and think “I wanted to win that award” or even worse “Why are they more successful than me?”  Comparing myself to someone else destroys any sense of balance in my life. I don’t see who I am in God’s eyes, what He’s blessed me with, what He’s called me to do.

Finding Balance: I focus on my life journey, not someone else’s. When I covet someone else’s successes, I am overlooking my own blessings. Theodore Roosevelt said it best: “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

Beth K. Vogt believes God’s best often waits behind the doors marked “Never.” A nonfiction writer and editor who said she’d never write fiction, Beth is now a novelist with Howard Books. Her novels include Wish You Were Here (2012), Catch a Falling Star (2013), Somebody Like You(May 2014) and her upcoming Crazy Little Thing Called Love (June 2015). She enjoys writing inspirational contemporary romance because she believes there’s more to happily-ever-after than the fairy tales tell us. Beth is also the Skills Coach for My Book Therapy writing community. Connect with Beth on her website or check out her blog on quotes, In Others’ Words.

Fighting Mommy Monster

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This past week I was fighting stuff on so many levels. Fortunately, none of those were actual fights with my husband or kiddo – been there, done that, lets not repeat it. My week started out with me getting sick, so I was fighting for my health. No, I wasn’t dying, but I was doing everything possible to avoid getting worse. Sick for me means I can’t sleep. This is completely frustrating because I know that I will have to make up for it later and I knew my week was going to be B-U-S-Y. I felt much better after laying on the couch all day Monday and coconut oil became my renewed best friend (hello natural antibiotic). I went to bed early that night, but my body said a firm no to sleeping. Of course my three-year-old slept amazingly well and even slept in while I was wide awake at 3:30 a.m. and my husband was even up by 6 a.m., which completely never happens. Tuesday was one tired day, but I had a distration in the form of not only my daughter, but a friend’s three-year-old for most of the day. Painting party, bath party, lunch, clean up, my lunch, third cup of tea for the day and a princess party made the day fly by, yet I was tempted to change the clock to 9 p.m. so I could drift off to sleep. Yeah, my overly observant daughter couldn’t be tricked.

Hello Wednesday. Days of sleeplessness were adding up, as were the vitamins to rebalance my body. Everything was annoying me and I found myself thinking, “Why can’t my kid just leave me alone for five minutes?” “He (my husband) shouldn’t play the guitar knowing I’m tired!” “Just let me get ready, for the love!” We finally made it out the door and mommy monster was starting to show. My phone started ringing as I was finally getting my skirming daughter in the car. “Who is calling me right now?!? Don’t they know I’m trying to leave? I’m not answering!” I glanced at the phone and saw it was my husband who had literally just pulled out of the driveway. “What!?!” I said without trying to hide my annoyance. “The driveway is icy and I just wanted to warn you.” “Okay,” I huffed, still annoyed. I was really thinking, “I can figure it out by myself; leave me alone.” Okay, you’d think the annoyance was out of my system by now, right? Nope. About halfway to dropping my daughter off at daycare I decided to take the advice I often give her: Change the tone. “Anika, what are you thankful for today? I’m thankful the roads aren’t snow covered.” She gleefully said, “The snow. The trees. The sunshine.” Ahhh, I felt the annoyance burden lifting as I counted my blessings. I was not going to let mommy monster win!

Mommy monster comes alive when the annoyance burden becomes too much. It grabs hold of my thoughts and actions, wripping away what could be a peaceful morning. Stripping away the joy in seeing my husband for a half hour during this busy tax season. Mommy monster is really negative and says we need to rush and hurry, we have no time for breakfast, this outfit wasn’t going to look good anyways. Ugg. Talk about spewing on myself and my family. Mommy monster thrives when coffee hasn’t pumped through my system yet.

Just Go Away Mommy Monster!
What makes mommy monster go away? No, it’s not peaceful silence in the morning before everyone wakes up. It’s not a three-year-old who behaves perfectly. It’s not even a great cup of coffee – although I never turn away coffee. Lack of margin leaves the door wide open for mommy monster. I know it takes around a half hour to make breakfast in the morning and a half hour to get my daughter and me ready and pack her bag for the day. It takes a few minutes to wake up and I also like to do a quick devotional or Bible study. I absolutely hate being rushed. This means my morning is off to a great start when I’m up around an hour an a half before I need to leave. I have no clue why, but my tired self tries to feed me the line that I can get out the door well fed in 45 minutes – I’m pretty sure that’s mommy monster trying to start my day. Give yourself margin in the areas of your day that are often the most stressful.

My second weapon of protection against mommy monster is counting my blessings – thank you God for the sunshine on my face and beautiful colors filling the sky. Thank you for a child who slept in late. Thank you for a husband who goes to work to provide for us each day. Thank you for two socks that match. Thank you for that encouraging message from a friend this morning. Thank you for my favorite song – “Oceans” by Hillsong United by the way – playing on the radio. Thank you for my favorite blanket on the couch as I sat drinking coffee and soaking in a few Bible verses.

I’m pretty sure mommy monster will continue to make a comeback and I’m certain I will be over taken, but today I have margin and I’m thankful.

Recipe for Homemade Sweet Potato Fries

Recipe for Homemade Sweet Potato Fries

Many restaurants have started offering sweet potato fries the past few years and it’s an absolutely favorite of mine when I go out to eat! I don’t eat out often, but I used to love going to Outback Steakhouse because they offered these delicious fries baked with honey and brown sugar. I was so disappointed when they took this favorite off the menu. It was a hard lesson to learn, but restaurants can change their menus anytime, so I knew I needed to learn how to make them myself. You can easily make your favorite dish offered at a restaurant, but it does take some time to perfect. The first batch of sweet potato fries did not turn out well, but I have since perfected my recipe. I’m so excited to share this with you!

The best part about this recipe – besides being so easy – is how tastefully healthy it is (okay, plain is best), but you are still getting a ton of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, Calcium, Magnesium, Potassium, Manganese and various other vitamins and minerals. Oh, and it’s gluten free and dairy free (unless you choose a seasoning that contains gluten or dairy).

Sweet Potato Fries

1. Preheat the oven to 425°C and oil a baking sheet with olive oil.

2. Skin 3 to 4 medium sized sweet potatoes and cute them in half. 

3. Cut the halves in half again and then in strips about a 1/4″ thick. A good rule of thumb is to think of the thickness you usually enjoy your fries. I like them thicker, so I cut them slightly larger. IMPORTANT: Cut all the fries the same thickness so they baked evenly. 

4. Put the sweet potato cuts in a plastic baggie and coat them with olive oil and any seasoning. Seal the bag and shake it. This will ensure the fries are evenly coated.

5. Spread the fries on your oiled baking sheet and leave space between each fry. 

6. Put them on the top baking rack and baked for exactly 15 minutes. NOTE: Bake thin fries for only 10 minutes.

7. Turn the fries over so they bake evenly on both sides and bake for another 10 minutes. 

Variations of Sweet Potato Fries

Honey Glazed

I love plain sweet potato fries, but another favorite are honey glazed! Follow steps 1 – 6 above and after you flip the fries over after they  have baked for 15 minutes simply drizzle or brush honey over them. Let them bake for 10 minutes. 

Breaded

Follow steps 1 – 3 above and add bread crumbs to the plastic baggie with oil. Seal and shake until they are fully coated. Follow the remainin directions for baking.

Eat and enjoy! I’m guessing you probably won’t have any left over, but refrigerate any leftovers. I never make quite enough, especially of the honey glazed since my daughter ends up eating her portion and some of mine! Enjoy!

Recipe for Baked Apple Peelings

Recipe for Baked Apple Peelings

Looking for a sweet and healthy snack? I used to throw apple peelings away, but recently discovered how easy it is to bake them. Save the apple peelings regardless of whether you are cutting up apples for your child’s lunch, making apple sauce or baking a pie! I like using sweeter apples, such as Jonagold and golden delicious.

Apple peelings contain the bulk of nutrition in an apple that helps your body fight diseases and reduce inflammation with anti-oxidants. The whie flesh of an apple also contains nutrients, but the peeling has up to six times more antioxidants! Source: http://www.superfoodsrx.com/nutrition/nutritional-research/its-the-apple-skin-stupid-56.html.

Note: I always thoroughly wash the apple peelings before even cutting into an apple since you don’t know who else has touched the apple or what it has come into contact with, but baking also kills any bacteria.

Here’s the recipe:

1. Heat the oven to 225°C.

2. Break apple peelings into bite size pieces.

3. Oil a baking sheet with olive oil and spread the peelings around the pan.

4. Baked for 2 – 2.50 hours. They will shrink in size as they bake and the sweetness will become condenced!

Store in a sealed plastic container (if you don’t eat them all right away).

Recipe for Easy Homemade Applesauce – No Sugar Added!

It’s a staple in my house and probably your’s too. Grocery stores sell countless varieties and flavors – even in small pouches for extra convenience. It’s often one of the first foods babies are given and children of all ages love it. What am I talking about? Applesauce! I love applesauce, but since going gluten free I have started making everything homemade and had been annoyed by the store – bought applesauce for a while since most contain sugar. Here’s a glimpse at just a few of the nutrition labels of popular brands I used to buy.

Mott’s Original Applesauce 

Ingredients: Apples, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Water, Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C)

Source: http://www.motts.com/products/6/applesauce

Yikes! Apples are naturally healthy and although you may still be getting some Vitamin C (even though they had to add it back in), but why, oh why, do they have to put high fructose corn syrup in the mix? Shelf life. I guarantee apple sauce that has been on the shelf for six months would not look appealing. NOTE: This ingredient list is just for Mott’s Original Apple Sauce. The Natural Apple Sauce does not contain high fructose corn syrup, but it still has Vitamin C added back in.

Meijer Brand Original Applesauce

Ingredients: Apples, Sugar, Water, Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C)

Source: https://www.meijer.com/product/grocery/snacks-candy/fruit-snacks/applesauce/meijer-applesauce-25-oz/t1/t1-865/t2/t2-9980/t3/t3-275/t4/t4-708/4125093807.uts

I wonder what kind of sugar is added since not all sugars are equal! Beet sugar and cane sugar are processed differently.

Musselman’s Original Applesauce

Ingredients: Apples, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Corn Syrup, Water, Ascorbic Acid to maintain color.

Source: http://www.musselmans.com/media/1169/original-apple-sauce.pdf

Oh, and this is a gluten-free product. This makes me laugh because although it’s gluten free (all applesauce is unless it’s processed on the same equipment as gluten-containing food), let’s double up the corn syrup! Sarcasim intended.

 

Easy Homemade Applesauce without Sugar

I looked through my Apple cookbook and came across a recipe and sure enough, it called for sugar. That is just crazy to me since there are many varieties of sweet apples. I followed some basic guidelines and it turned out great – my three – year old asked for more fresh cooked over the store bought! I used Jonagold apples for this recipe, but you can also use Fuji, Gala, Golden Russet, Jonamac and Yellow Delicious.

1. Peel and core 4-5 apples.

2. Chop each apple up into small pieces so it cooks quickly.

3. Pour 1 cup of water into a medium sauce pan and add the chopped apples.

4. Cover and cook over medium heat for 20 minutes while stirring occasionally.

5. Mash the apples using a fork, hand mixer or potato masher – I enjoy using the potato masher the most!

applesauce

6. Let the apple sauce cook for another 10 minutes, uncovered. Keep mashing it until all the chunks are gone.

7. The apple sauce is done and ready to enjoy if you are looking for a hot treat. Or, you can add a half to a cup of your favorite fruit. Strawberries, blue berries and raspberries are great choices!

Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator if you will use it within the next week or freeze it up to three months.

8 Rules for Valentine’s Day

Okay, now that you realize it’s Valentine’s Day (we talked about this in an earlier post), let’s talk about some rules – wait, I hate rules – let’s call them guidelines. You won’t get a ticket if you ignore them, but they will guide you to be more intentional and even less selfish with the upcoming love fest that’s days away.

1. Stay within Your Budget

What do I mean? Have you set financial goals you are working to achieve? Don’t let this one holiday throw you off or give you a reason to break the budget. This guideline should be applied to anything you are tempted or planning on purchasing.

2. Decide What You Will Eat Before Valentine’s Day

A huge part of this lovey dovey holiday is surrounding yourself with chocolate, cookies, baked goods, ice cream and any other treat you can imagine covering in pink, red and white frosting and sprinkles. Are you going to hurt your spouse’s feelings or that of your children by saying no and cutting back? No, but remember to share how meaningful their gesture is!

3. Be Grateful

I was reading the book Amelia Bedilia’s First Valentine to my daughter and I noticed her mother putting a lot of pressure on Amelia’s father to buy her candy, jewelry and flowers. This upset me because Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to just be for women or daughters; husbands and sons can enjoy it too. In the end Amelia’s father did buy a presents and Amelia’s mother showed a lot of gratitude.

4. Spread the Love to Neighbors

Do you know who lives next door? What about two houses down? Expand your focus outside of your family and have your kids make cards to pass out to the neighbors on your street. Making an effort to connect with your neighbors offers numerous blessings and Valentine’s Day gives you a reason to say hello. I have a mix of neighbors on my road, from young families to working grandparents to retired individuals. My life may be busy and filled with few moments of alone time, but my neighbor down the road may be struggling with loneliness.

5. Be Respectful to People of Different Beliefs

Do you have a neighbor or is there a child in your son’s class at school who doesn’t celebrate Valentine’s Day? Be respectful of their beliefs, but you don’t have to totally skip out on telling them you appreciate them. Skip bringing a Valentine’s Day card and candy, but you could still stop by and visit with them. Don’t go out of your way to offend the person (or child), but don’t avoid them just because you are afraid of offending them. You can’t possibly know every belief of a neighbor (or child) until you get to know them.

6. Know What Your Family Can Handle

Traditionally, Valentine’s Day has been a holiday strictly for couples, but that changes when kids come along. I love family time with my daughter (one of many reasons I opted to stay home with her). It’s important to know what your family needs. My husband works six days a week right now, so we will be spending time together as a family on Saturday – after my husband gets home from work. Does this mean we spend absolutely no time together? No! We’re just basing our plans on keeping our entire family in balance.

7. Be Intentional with How You Spend Money

Have you already decided what gifts you will purchase (or make)? Consider who you are really supporting when you purchase candy, cards and gifts. There are many organizations that sell merchandise to help support different missions. Considering purchasing the CD Love Found Me from VOTA to support efforts against sex trafficking of women and girls, The Giving Keys which helps the homeless get off the streets, proceeeds from jewelry sales by Natalie Grant go to support www.hopeforjustice.com which also fights human trafficking, 31 Bits offers fashion items created by people in Uganda who are striving to overcome poverty, Global Goods Partners helps people from around the world conquer poverty by offering handmade goods from over 40 partners in 20 countries. I know it’s mere days before Valentine’s Day, so check out local options to be intentional. Many local artists sell jewelry and handmade goods in locally-ownered stores or you can also purchase products that are made locally – MadeInMichigan.com is a great way to find local products!

8. Let Go of Your To-Do List

I’m guilty of caring around a to-do list of things that have to get done around the holidays. For Valentine’s Day my list started out with making homemade gluten free treats, brownies, decorating cookies, going to dinner, turning my house into pink and red madness. Okay, do you see how crazy all of that is? I have decided to enjoy the holiday instead of letting myself get busy with all these things that will just leave me exhausted. Is my husband demanding treats? Does my daughter have to wake up to a house decked out by Cupid? I will do some of these things, but the #1 thing on my to-do list is to enjoy time with my family. Yes, this has to be intentional or sometimes it doesn’t happen.

Get ready. Get set. GO! I’d love to hear about what you are doing differently for Valentine’s Day and how you are spreading Christ’s love with purpose!

Break the Budget, It’s Valentine’s Day!

Oh, is Valentine’s Day coming? I wasn’t sure because the pink, red and white candy has been in Target for the past month. Heart-shaped boxes of chocolate are now on sale buy three get one free. Elsa, Ana and Olaf want to wish you a meltingly warm day. Shelves are stocked with cards containing “perfect” words for your significant other, daughter, son, mother, father, cousin twice removed. The retail industry has taken over this once endearing holiday. Our culture has bought into the lies that Valentine’s Day must include a box of chocolate, flowers, getting dressed up, spending a ton of money on dinner and other expectations just because we have deamed February 14th the day of love. Okay, I seem link the grinch who stole Valentine’s Day, but I just want to put it all into perspective.

If we do all of this stuff for Valentine’s Day, are we off the hook every other day of the year (minus your birthday)? 

Like many other holidays, Valentine’s Day creates expectations. Not all of them are wrong – it’s good to show those you love that you love them! Going all out one or two days per year does not create a strong relationship with anyone. Daily deposits of love, such as a sticky note telling them you love them, making them their favorite dinner, praying with them and checking in to see how their day is going will create a stronger bond that is no match for a box of chocolate.

Valentine’s Day Can Be Ugly

But, do you have to spend money that probably isn’t in the budget? No! I’ve struggled with this one because I my love language is giving and receiving gifts, so I love getting caught up in the festive hearts, sweets, soft teddy bears – I wanted it all! Ug. My husband has never met my expectations. It’s horribly sad and it’s because he’s actually not in charge of my happiness. Shocker? I can choose to be happy, but that certainly doesn’t mean I have to be deprived. Thoughtful presents are more meaningful when they aren’t expected. Period. Oh, and I used to create expectations as I walked through a store. You do this too? Stores are smart about how they advertise, where candy is placed and how to pull on your heart strings. Sounds oh so romantic.

Do You Have to Spend Money to Go On a Date?

Many people go out for Valentine’s Day and if you don’t then there must be something wrong with you. Ponder this. Our culture tells us that Valentine’s Day means going out on a date. Until recently, my husband and I put going out on dates on the back burner because spending $50 for dinner and anything else we wanted to do, plus paying a babysitter, every week just isn’t in the budget. I love to go on dates, but we are now exploring ways to “date” without spending so much money. The most memorable moments have been the unexpected ones – ones we have created. No expectations. Transparency. Openness. Last week we played The Game of Life and made a point to be silly – try acting out giving your entire family food poisoning without laughing.

What Do You Expect Out of Valentine’s Day?

Think about your expectations for Valentine’s Day. I used to expect the works (you know, jewelry, chocolate, flowers, dinner, surprize present), but realized we couldn’t afford it all and then get depressed about it all. WHAT? This is crazy! Have you noticed that my expectations only grow? It’s funny how my brain can tack on endless details that quickly turn into must-have priorities. It will be perfect if… What are your expectations for Valentine’s Day? Are you trying to cram too much into a single day? Choose a day to go out for lunch. Plan an afternoon to make chocolate and treat together. Go out to see a movie once a month. Spreading out the dates means you are spending more time together while keeping your expectations realistic since you have another date to look forward to.

I Am Celebrating Valentine’s Day

All that said, I’m still celebrating Valentine’s Day. I’m making my daughter a scarf with hearts that are her favorite colors. I accidentally learned how to crochet a cute bracelet that will make great gifts for my daughter’s friends and our nieces. My hubby and I may go out to dinner, but it’s hard to find time from January through May because he takes care of everyone’s taxes. We find time for dates, but they certainly don’t always include going out to dinner when Hallmark says we should. I blame some of my now retiring expectations on comparisons growing up, among other things, but there are more things to consider than just assuming we have to do Valentine’s Day the retail way.

Creative Alternatives

Here are some sweet ways to still do Valentine’s Day, but refined a bit to include more thoughtfulness and fewer expectations. Check out the my Pinterest boards for over 100 easy and thoughtful ideas for Valentine’s Day Gifts and Valentine’s Day Treats. Here are some other fun ideas:

  • Filling their Bucket
  • The Great Valentines Day Give 
  • Check out books from the libary about Valentine’s Day
  • Get crafty and crochet something
  • Rent some Valentine’s Day movies
  • Read Bible verses about love as a family
  • Decorate buckets or boxes that you can fill with messages for each other (I like this for any day, not just Valentine’s Day!)

Spread Your Love for Christ This Valentine’s Day

I have seen so many different cards and gift ideas for Valentine’s Day without even trying to look. It’s easy to get caught up in showing love based on our actions and the actions of those around us, but is this really Christ-centered love? I have pondered this a lot and I’m left saying no. Christ was perfect and there is so much we can learn about love by looking at and thinking about what He did. He was a thought breaker and knew his job would not pay well or even be acceptable in the Jewish culture. He was not only fired by the leaders of the day: they killed Him. You know what? He still showed them love. Would you get on the cross and take the blame and fall out for that coworker who is always rude to you? What about the “friend” we makes you feel two inches tall? How about the drunk driver who took the life of your spouse or parent? It’s easy to find excuses not to love, but what about finding reasons to love?

How can we “do” Valentine’s Day the Christ way this year?
Christ came to serve and love others. Are your expectations leaving room to think of others on February 14th? I struggle with this and don’t believe I am alone.

Here is one idea I would love to see spread! Choose one of these Valentine’s Day cards and post it as your picture on social media, print it, send it to a friend. It will be a reminder for yourself and others who is the ultimate romantic in your life. Send me your favorite Bible verse and I will create a card for you to use.

Romans 12 9

1 Corinthians 13 13

1 Peter 4 8

Ephesians 4 2

Ephesians 5-25

Colossians 3 14

1 John 3-16