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It has not been my year. Whenever I feel like I’m getting my head above the water, something terrible happens and pushes me back under.

Its during times like those that I’m glad I made my word for 2018 “community.” Having a support system is the only thing that makes some things bearable. But building a support system? That can be hard. Especially when you’re a busy mom. Especially when you’re trying to connect with other busy moms.

Who has time to make new friends? Yeah… no one.

As I get older, the more I realize that the quality of my friends is more important than the quantity of them. Yes, I’ve known this for a while— I’ve known my best friends for 15 and 13 years. But my greedy, extroverted heart? It wants more friends, more parties, more more more.

Well, it did.

Now I want quality of friends. Friends I can bare my soul to. Friends who bare their souls back. I want friends who will sit there with me in silence when there’s nothing good left to say.

Humans are social creatures. We crave community. In this fast-paced world, it can be hard to find it. Online presences are great at keeping us connected with loved ones around the world, and I cherish my friends I mainly know online.

But for me? Getting together in real life is incredibly important.

As I focus on the quality of my friends, the quality of my time spent with them also comes into focus. Sometimes all I can squeeze into my plans is a rushed 15 minutes when we’re both running errands and drop everything for a Starbucks coffee in the medical mall by my pediatrician.

I’ve found I can leave that 15 minute meet up either feeling depressed and unfulfilled or genuinely refreshed. The difference? The quality of the time.

When I’m meeting with friends, I have been making a conscious effort to be present. I put away my phone. I need to keep my hands constantly moving, so knitting helps keep me in the moment without resorting to playing on my phone. I can talk to my friend without being distressed by the latest political scandal or online drama. (There will always be online drama. Let it go.)

If I’m having friends over, there’s the ever-present temptation to stress myself silly beforehand. There must be no evidence that anyone actually inhabits my home. They cannot see my flaws. They may reject me.

Having quality friends helps the rejection thing. Trust me.

Lately, instead of stressing to prepare, I just do what I can. Some battles are not meant to be fought. Every single toy does not need to be in the toy box. It’s okay if there are a few books off the shelf. We live here. We do things here. My child plays and creates here. A little imperfection is fine.

I can stop sorting my child’s books alphabetically and put on a pot of coffee instead.

Instead of filling in my patchy eyebrows that I pull out when I’m overwhelmed, I can greet a friend bare-faced. If they gossip about my imperfections, that’s out of my hands.

Instead of waiting until my life is perfectly in place, I can meet friends in the chaos. Chances are, they have chaos in their life too. It seems like adulthood is limping from one disaster to another— and the only way to face each new disaster is with people you love. These people will be on your team even if you had popcorn and ice cream for dinner last night. Even if you greet them at the door in pajamas because you overslept.

Let go of distractions and stress. Fill your spare moments with quality time. You can do this.

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A Southern Celiac by Brittany - 3M ago

Dying doesn’t seem beautiful.

Death is hard— for the person dying, for the carers, for those left behind. Death can make us hard.

My Pawpaw died last night. It was hard.

It makes us raw.

Death wears down the careless callus we rub onto our heart.

With every new tragedy unfolding, our hearts build a callus, like hands rough from plowing the patch of ground my Pawpaw used to grow tomatoes in. (“Last year, we grew fifty tomatoes,” my Grandmother said, “the mites got them eventually, but before that, boy was he proud.”)

We can’t feel every hurt as deeply as our hearts want. It will break us if we do. So our hearts build a callus.

Death sloughs off the callus if we let it. Even if we don’t.

When I was younger, I climbed into the barn loft every Tuesday and Thursday. (Once my cousin and I got stuck— we screamed and screamed until Pawpaw came to rescue us. She asked him to get her down. I asked for an oatmeal cream pie and a soda. This memory defines us.)

The ladder to the loft is uneven planks nailed to the side of the barn. My hands wore calluses, but my heart was free of them and I was sensitive. So sensitive.

Every petty fight, every lost friendship, every lover who got away— these all made calluses. I was no longer so sensitive.

(I have a scar on my leg where something went through it. My cousin and I were trespassing and almost got caught. We ran back to the yard and Pawpaw was grilling burgers. He was so calm as I limped past with blood streaming down my leg. “Looks like that hurts,” he said.

My heart is like that puncture wound. It feels like it can bleed itself clean.)

Every sweet snap pea he ever grew me came from the dirt, and to the dirt we’ll all eventually return. In the process we sometimes find ourself faced with something so big, so scary, that we must face our own mortality.

(Pawpaw once filled the Little Room with boxes of out of date Keebler products he picked up while driving a route truck. “This is what heaven looks like,” I thought. “Heaven is full of Cheez-It’s.”)

When we face our mortality, or the mortality of those we love, those calluses come off our heart. It’s fresh, and soft, and raw.

Death can make us be hard, or death can make us soft. I will choose to be soft.

I will choose to be soft because I believe in life after death. I believe in Heaven, yes, but I believe in something more. I believe that I am the remaining breaths of those who came before. I believe that I am filled with all the love of all those who ever led to my creation— a million ancient love notes, secret kisses, and hands to hold. I carry in my DNA every kept promise and everything that has led to me being here on earth. I believe that my brain has created new circuits, new loops of thinking that mimic the people that I love. I carry their beliefs, their quirks, and their memories in my mind and heart.

As long as I’m here, the ones I love will never die— not really. They will be here in my breath, in my thoughts, and in all the things I’ve ever learned. And they’ll be waiting for me on the other side.

I didn’t say it nearly enough, but I love you Pawpaw. Thanks for getting me the good ice cream from the basement. I will always take care of your fish.

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My focus this year is on creating and inspiring community. So far I’ve been reaching out more  to people I want to create or strengthen relationships with, and attending more events I would normally skip. A few weeks of nasty sickness have held us back from socializing the way I would like to, but it’s let me focus on something else: getting back to the basics.

In my experience, community really thrives when everything else is pared down. When outside distractions, screens, and our busy lives take a pause, connection grow.

This was my thought as we approached the Lenten season. Now, Baptists don’t actually celebrate Lent. However, I’ve always been a bit of a secret Methodist, and I’ve celebrated Lent alone since fourth grade, when I met a Methodist girl who would become a close friend. She had given up pickled peppers for Lent, which sounds silly in retrospect, but pickled peppers were something she ate every day. It was a big sacrifice for a kid.

For years, I stumbled along, taking cues from my different-denominational friends. I gave up caffeine, my morning vice. I gave up sweets, which just made me really sad.

This year, in my quest to create more community, I sat down and did a real inventory of my life. What was weighing me down spiritually?

The answer was stuff.

Stuff is holding me back. Like most of you, I’m prone to wanting the most, the best, the newest. Then when I get it, what happens? I just want the next best thing.

So, for Lent, I’m doing two things. I cut my wardrobe down to 25 pieces of clothing. And I’m keeping a gratitude prayer journal.

So what does this have to do with creating Community?

When you stop focusing on having the best stuff, the prettiest house, or the fanciest zip code, you can start creating community right where you are.

It doesn’t matter if you forget to buy disposable cups and all your guests have to drink out of mugs (which is more eco-friendly anyway)! It doesn’t matter if your kid has rubbed their face on your sweater and your hair is still in a Mom-bun.

All you need to create and inspire community is the willingness to listen and a place to gather. It can be a park. It can be a house. It can be a coffee shop. It can be a group message on Facebook.

It can be hard to go against your instincts and let others see your imperfections and your sharp edges. It can be hard to open the hurt in your heart.

But we have to let go a little a bit at a time. Let go of your need for control. Let go of your ego. Let go of your snap judgments and your Pinterest dreams. Let go of consumerism.

Hold onto an open heart.

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Yesterday, I was stressed to my limit.

I was hosting a board game party, but everything that could possibly go wrong was going wrong. Several friends suffered terrible, unfair things this week. Justin was sick this week. Critter was sick this week. I hadn’t cleaned. I forgot to buy disposable cups.

I was rushing around, trying to make the house look like civilized people lived in it, when I found myself repeating a mantra that came from nowhere: “make space for grace.”

I sat down and took a deep breath. I might’ve cried a little about all the things my friends were dealing with. But when I stood up and started working again, that mantra kept playing through my head.

It didn’t matter that I didn’t have disposable cups. I had mugs and glasses, and a wonderful husband willing to wash them afterwards.

It didn’t matter that the baby was quickly undoing any progress I made on gathering her toys into the toy box. There would be plenty of kids to play with them.

It didn’t matter that I forgot ice— my parents were kind enough to bring some by while I was panicking.

It wasn’t a perfect party. There were too many people and some of us had to sit on the floor. My child tried to convince my friend to put her four month old in a doll stroller. (And my friend was obviously smart enough to say no.)

After the party was over, I felt… kind of fulfilled. It’s the third big party I’ve hosted at my house, and even though there were some bumps in the road, everyone had fun.

Then my friend gave me the best compliment ever: “you and Justin have the ability to bring people together who normally wouldn’t.”

So where is this going?

It’s easy to put things off until you can do them perfectly. But too often, that means putting them off forever.

If I’m going to work on building and inspiring community this year, there’s only one way to do it: make space for grace. God loves us even though we’re pretty imperfect. Take me, for example. I’m stubborn, impatient, and sometimes hot-headed. But God loves me anyway. So, as a Christian, it’s important for me to show the love of God to others… even when they’re stubborn, impatient, and hot-headed. Even when they’re me.

So to create community, I have to show some love for others as they are, not as I want them to be. My friend group won’t be picture perfect, and we may spend part of our parties sitting on the floor.

But this is where we learn to love— sitting on the hardwood.

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If you’re on social media at all, you’ve seen it. Those people who decide to forgo resolutions and instead choose a word to focus their intentions on. Some people choose words like “growth,” “wellness,” or “light.” Some choose words like “kindness,” “grace,” or “peace.” These are all great words.

I do a mixture of resolutions and a focus word. Having both really helps me set the course of my year. I like to make my goals concrete and attainable: “make twelve new recipes in 2018.” So far I’ve made nine. I might’ve set the bar a little too low.

I also chose a word for 2018, but this year I chose it late. Yesterday, in fact. I’ve spent the whole month tossing words around in my head, but none of them clicked. They just didn’t feel right.

Then an old Facebook memory showed up. I had shared a post from another blogger about hospitality. It’s easy to get caught up in the idea that everything has to look picture perfect to host, but this quote stood out to me: “people are hungry for community, not a five course meal.” 

Just like that, I knew my word for the year.

Community.

People are starved for community. You can see it.

When we gather ourselves into a hateful rhetoric of “us versus them,” it gives us a community. A group of people we connect with. People who can’t wait to build a wall and send “those Mexicans” back across it? They’re hurting and they want to belong. They’re creating community by othering immigrants— who are also created in God’s image.

The woman at mom’s group who’s just there to judge everyone else? She’s trying to create community too. She may not know it, but odd are? She wants to belong to something. She wants to find her people.

I don’t want to hurt people in my search for community. I don’t think the answer lies in “us, not them.”

I want to create a space for people to come together and reconcile their differences. A space to come together and open up— slowly at first, because vulnerability is hard. A place where others can say “me too.”

I cant fix the lack of community that our society creates. I can’t fix our fast-paced lives and the need to work three jobs. I can’t fix Community and societal leaders who prey upon our need to belong to something greater and twist it into hatred.

But I can open up a space for people to belong, to be believed, and to share their hurts and joys.

I’m taking steps towards this.

I joined a Cookbook Club with some other great women who inspire me in my search for and creation of community.

I’ve reached out to old friends and new acquaintances.

I’ve decided to look past my house’s lack of Pinterest perfection and invite people over for parties and coffee and play dates.

I’ve decided to share my story— the joys and the pains.

This year’s word is a challenge for me. But is anything worth doing if it doesn’t help you grow?

I can’t change the world, but I can change myself.

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This Friendsgiving, I was looking for a main dish that was a stunner. I wanted something that was easy, looked hard, wasn’t expensive, could feed a crowd, was gluten free, vegan, and tasted great. I know. I felt like I was searching for a unicorn.

While browsing Pinterest, I came across several recipes that caught my eye. One was for a wild rice and sausage stuffing. One was for stuffed acorn squash. Both looked pretty good. Neither was what I needed. I gathered my supplies and threw caution to the wind.

On the day of the party, I crossed my fingers. I had never tried this recipe before, and I was about to serve it to somewhere between ten and twenty guests. I hoped it would work.

It did! In fact, it turned out so well that I’m sharing my secrets. One of my secrets is that I never use recipes. I generally look at recipes, think “that looks good,” then do it my way. My way is slightly different each time I make it. This is endlessly frustrating to people who try to copy my recipes. That’s why my other secret is this: modify! Almost everything can be substituted, as long as you don’t expect it to turn out exactly like mine.

Without further ado, here is my “recipe” for stuffed acorn squash. This recipe serves 10 people, but can easily be adjusted to serve fewer.

Stuffed Acorn Squash:
5 Acorn Squash
2 cups wild rice, uncooked
3 cups vegetable broth
Earth Balance vegan “butter”
1 1/2 packs baby portobello mushrooms
3 stalks celery
1/2 onion
Garlic to taste
1 cup dried cranberries
Crushed unsalted almonds, to taste
Roughly 1 tablespoon sage
Roughly one tablespoon thyme
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425.
Cut the ends off the acorn squash so they will sit flat, then cut the acorn squash in half. Scoop out the seeds and “guts” of the acorn squash.
Rub the acorn squash with Earth Balance, then place on baking sheet with cavity facing upward.
Roast for roughly 30 minutes.
While the squash is roasting, dice your onion. Slice mushrooms and celery.
Prepare rice according to package directions. I cook mine in veggie broth instead of water.
Add mushrooms, onion, celery, and garlic to a pan with Earth Balance over medium heat. Sauté until cooked but firm. Add sage and thyme, salt and pepper.
After rice is finished cooking, add the cooked celery, onion, garlic, and mushrooms to the wild rice. Toss to combine.
Spoon the wild rice mixture into the cavity of the cooked acorn squash.
Put stuffed squash back in the oven for 10-15 minutes.
Remove from oven; serve hot.

That’s it! That’s my (soon to be) famous wild rice stuffed acorn squash. It’s gluten free, dairy free, vegan, and can be soy free if you use Earth Balance Soy Free.

What did you make for your holiday celebration?

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If you have dietary restrictions, you are very aware of how much having a social life revolves around food. Ice cream socials, pizza night, coffee with friends, potlucks….food is everywhere. If your friends don’t have dietary restrictions, social outings can start to feel a bit like a minefield.

No one wants to be the person who vetoes every restaurant, so if you’re anything like me, you’ve eaten before girl’s night out parties and drank a soda while everyone else had pizza. Now, I have been gluten free since 2012, so I’ve got stuff figured out. I bring my own food or eat beforehand. I ask questions, or bring a safe potluck dish to share and serve myself first from it— no matter how rude it looks.

But I have family and friends who love me, and who want me to feel included. So, I’ve been asked over the years how to make me feel more included, or how to make me feel safer at gatherings. Now that my daughter has food allergies, we’ve also met plenty of parents who want my daughter to play with their kids, and who don’t want to poison her.

So let’s talk about how you can be a food allergy hero and take care of your friends instead of being a food allergy zero….and poisoning your friends.

1. Ask how you can make them feel safe.

My Celiac is different than my daughter’s food allergies, and everyone with food allergies has different limits, tolerances, and safe foods. Some people with restricted diets can deal with cross-contamination. Some, like me, cannot. Keep lines of communication open, and find out what your friend’s personal dietary needs are.

2. Be wary of cross-contamination.

If your friend is allergic to dairy and you dip your spoon in ranch dressing before using the same spoon to get mustard, that mustard is now off-limits to your friend, too. Although ranch dressing and mustard are a disgusting combination, cross-contamination happens more often than you think. Read up on cross-contamination and learn ways to prevent it— like letting your friend with food allergies serve themselves first.

3. Assume the best in people.

Yes, there are food allergy fakers out there, and it hurts my soul to see someone wash down a gluten-free pizza with a Bud Lite. Still, if you love your friend or family member who has a restricted diet, it’s good to assume the best. They’re not doing this just to annoy you (or if they are, you may need to re-examine your relationship with this person.) Most times, they’re doing this because they have no other choice!

4. Don’t share food (or at least ask first)

This mainly applies to kids. Listen, I know that sharing is good, and you’ve been working on teaching your kid to share. But when your kid hands my kid ice cream and my kid starts puking, you’re not going to share in the clean-up work. Please, please, do not share food without at least asking the parent. Teach kids that not everyone can eat what they can eat, and to be thoughtful of their friends who eat differently than they do. A little empathy can go a long way! (And yes, we’re teaching my kid not to take food from other people unless we say it’s okay. But if she’s one and your kid is five, your kid might grasp the lesson a little better.)

5. Let us know where we’re eating ahead of time.

If we’re having dinner out, I don’t have to pick the place every time. Sure, I’d feel safer that way, and some of my friends do let me choose when we go out. However, if you want to be in charge, go for it! Just let me know where we’ll be eating in advance, so I can figure out if it’ll be safe for me. If not, I can eat in advance, bring snacks for afterwards, or just eat somewhere else and catch up with everyone later. If I don’t know in advance, I may be stuck drinking a sad soda while everyone else eats, and I may get hangry. Hangry celiacs are the worst celiacs. (Also, if you DO let me pick the restaurant, then I probably consider you one of my best friends.)

6. Let us ask questions.

When we ask questions about your food, it isn’t because we don’t trust you. It’s because that many times, it took us years to figure out the ins and outs of our diets. Although we’re sure you’re doing your best, we want to keep ourselves safe! It’s better for us to ask questions to make sure that what you’re offering us is truly safe for us to eat than for you to accidentally poison us and for us to hold a grudge for fifteen years.

I asked on my private Facebook what people with dietary restrictions wished their loved ones knew or would do, and I got all of these answers that I had already written…plus more! If you know or care about someone with a restricted diet, try to keep open, non-judgmental lines of communication. Ask them questions. Let them ask questions. Work together to come up with solutions that work for your friend group or family.

Let’s talk: If you have food allergies, how can your family be food allergy heroes for you?

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I had my first migraine in kindergarten. My mom had migraines, and became sensitive to light and sound. She had to go in a dark room and close her eyes.

In school one day, I started feeling off. I had sharp head pain, and the lights were suddenly too bright. Everything was too loud.

”I think I have a migraine,” I said.

”Oh honey,” I was told, “migraines are serious. You just have a headache!”

That’s when I threw up.

I wasn’t diagnosed with migraines until middle school, when an ENT looked in my nose and ears and said “all clear. You’re just having migraines!”

Migraines followed me through life, mostly episodic. Sometimes I’d get one a month. Sometimes one a week. Then, in 2013, everything changed. I had chronic migraine.

Chronic migraine is defined as more than 15 migraine days out of a month. Sometimes I would have a migraine every day. I tried triptan after triptan and preventative drug after preventative drug. My neurologist decided it was all in my head— which, technically, it is— and I ran out of options.

During pregnancy, I had many fewer migraines.

Postpartum, it came back full force. Daily. Intractable. Migraines.

After waiting for at least eight months, I was able to see a headache specialist. She is a neurologist that specializes in weird and/or hard to treat headaches. She also deals with migraines, which meant that she immediately recognized me rolling my neck as a sign of impending migraine.

”I have good news,” she said. “You’re not shit outta luck.”

Really, that’s all I could hope for.

We started with low dose Diamox and a gabapentin prescription, and put in a pre-authorization request with my insurance for Botox. I went on a low tyramine diet. I upped my fluid and salt intakes.

I’m going to be honest, I didn’t have high hopes.

Then, two weeks after starting Diamox, I went kayaking. I realized something strange.

I didn’t have a headache.

Nornally, I would wake up with beginnings of a headache. By 10 or 11 a.m., I had a full blown migraine.

But it was 11 a.m., and I didn’t even have a headache.

I still have headaches more often than not, but not having a literal constant headache is amazing. I can get things done! I don’t just want the world to stop making noise!

Life without a headache is a dream.

That’s not to say I don’t have issues. Although I still have headaches every day (although usually not until the afternoon!), I also have to deal with Diamox side effects. These include soda tasting terrible, tingling in my hands and feet, and a worsened memory. I called crackers “bread rectangles,” y’all. The struggle is real.

I have hopes that my headaches will continue to improve over time, and I hope that Botox helps. I know it’s hit or miss, but I’m a good candidate, as I don’t have anything like Fibro that could be triggered by it. For now, I’m relishing my headache free hours.

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Yesterday I was diagnosed with PCOS. It was a surprise diagnosis.

I’ve had horrible periods since, basically, I started having periods. I would bleed for a month straight or skip my period four months in a row. I spent more time bloated than not. Suspecting endometriosis, which runs in my family, I was unceremoniously put on birth control in an attempt to give me some semblance of control over my internal organs. It didn’t really work. I cycled through birth controls, dealing with side effect after side effect while still flip-flopping between extreme bleeding or no bleeding at all. When I did bleed, I’d be in so much pain that I considered cutting my own uterus out. When I didn’t have a period, I still had bloating, tenderness, and a plethora of other symptoms.

I had a pregnancy with hyperemesis gravidarum, so I didn’t notice much of anything besides nausea and vomiting for nine months. (And residual nausea when I ovulate, too.) However, once my periods started back, everything came right back. I had Nexplanon inserted in 2016, and after that, all my weird symptoms could be explained away as birth control side effects.

Except they weren’t.

After I landed in the ER twice within the span of a year for mysterious abdominal pain, a CT scan found ovarian cysts. I assumed they were functional cysts, but with a family history of reproductive problems, it’s really better safe than sorry. I agreed to see a gynecologist, despite some post-traumatic symptoms I have around OBGYNs.

I saw a gynecologist at a women’s only clinic. I’ve seen a male gynecologist in the past with no issues, but the gynecologist in question was one of the only slightly reasonable people I met during my HG debacle. She had left the clinic I used for pregnancy early on, so I wasn’t able to see her. Still, she had left a good impression. Justin booked an appointment for me and I braced myself.

When I went in, I kind of panicked. I word-vomited at the nurse. I might have cried a little. No big deal though. She was super sweet and explained everything I had told her to the doctor, sparing no detail.

The doctor came in with action plan— but asked me what I wanted taken care of, too. A lot of doctors get so caught up in their own idea of what’s going on that they forget to ask the patient what they want out of the visit. That didn’t happen.

I knew something was going down when I got my ultrasound. The tech was wonderful, and I had actually seen her during the beginning of my pregnancy. The problem wasn’t her. The problem was that she seemed very concerned about what she saw on my ovaries.

When the doctor came in, she looked at the ultrasound for all of two seconds before asking “has anyone ever said anything about PCOS?”

I replied that they hadn’t.

“Well, you have it.”

Um, what?

She went on to explain that PCOS caused things like low grade pelvic inflammation— and that mine was currently “very high grade.” PCOS also caused the mysterious headaches I have been getting after eating, and it’s the cause of the mysterious missing period.

She also drew an illustration of my ovaries, complete with “a happy uterus.” Mine is apparently an unhappy uterus. Go figure.

We’ve got an action plan. It involves reducing my pelvic inflammation and making sure I don’t have anything else compounding the issue. I’ll also be doing pelvic floor therapy, but that’s a whole different story for a post I will never write.

Since my diagnosis yesterday, it’s come to my attention that a large percentage of people I know also deal with PCOS. So, hive mind, I’d love some help. What are your best tips and resources for living with PCOS?

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