Check out this week’s endeavor of our blogger, Vanessa and her inspiring journey for peace.



I spent a lot of time in nature today. I laid down on large rocks, I walked on trails in the woods, and I breathed deeply in the air of the day. Nature is close by our home and we spend a great deal of time there. Taking the beauty in through all of our senses is a deep, healing experience. And, it helps always to remind me of the freedom that I have to contemplate life and circumstances from a variety of perspectives.

I am grateful for knowing that I have a choice. Many persons, including many in my life, do not know or understand that they have a choice in their perspective on the world. Whether they see themselves as a victim, as flawed or defective, as better than or more evolved than others, as only being their life circumstances and nothing else, they cannot see beyond these…

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What to Bring to the Bonfire?: Living Gluten-free

Photo by Autumn Mott on Unsplash

As you all probably know, Fall is my favorite season:  warm sunny days, leaves changing bright colors, cool nights, which I can wear my vegan leather bomber jacket, leggings, and boots (my outfit if I were a cartoon character à la Jane from the show, Daria). Fall also is the beginning of what feels like a mystical time of the year that unleashes the creativity and romance within. Additionally, Fall is for pumpkin patches, corn mazes, pumpkin spiced everything (I don’t put that shit on everything), and the best part—bonfires! My birthday is the beginning of October, which I am planning an “Altoberfest” (the name needs work), but you get my drift:  German-style food on my charcoal grill, fire pit, toasted marshmallows, the works. Another favorite of Fall fans is football season, which means…tailgating! Yes, tailgating, the easy way to get drunk and eat within the confines of a small space in a parking lot. However you like the party, I am not here to judge:  I am here to help. So, what do you bring to the party?
You could bring all sorts of things, but if you are like me, you might be so sensitive that if gluten was caught looking at something I ate, I would be sick for quite a bit. I have made the joke countless times that I require “exotic pet food,” or otherwise I will “die,” but I digress. I know I have mentioned I have some other weird food issues going on, so if you have to live in a bubble like me when it comes to food, here are some Certified Gluten-Free (CGF) suggestions. If you don’t know what CGF is, it basically means that companies legally adhere to strict guidelines that their products have 10 parts per million or less gluten (which is extremely small, but still can make someone sick) in them (due to cross-contamination, what have you). It is the best you are going to get besides making your own condiments, growing, or buying whole foods, yourself.

In my opinion, these are best CGF products I have had (you can click on the names for links):

Hot dogs and hamburgers:

  • Thumann’s Hot Dogs (if you can find them anywhere, they are amazing!)
  • Sabrett’s Hot Dogs
  • Organic (preferably grass-fed) beef (80-85% is the best meat to fat ratio I have found so far). Grass-fed beef typically is organic, too. You can find organic grass-fed beef in the dreaded Wal-Mart (or a local store or farm)
  • For vegans, I enjoy Dr. Praeger’s or Hillary’s vegan burgers. They are both CGF, but some of Dr. Praeger’s are not gluten-free, so be careful.

Hot dog and Hamburger Buns:

  • Canyon Bakehouse (a little pricey, but still good)
  • Udi’s (okay in a pinch, but the hot dog buns are huge and can be a little dry…I suggest their hamburger buns instead)
  • O’Dough’s sandwich thins (I believe they are vegan, too and their Everything bagels are amazing by the way…also difficult to find)


  • Inglehoffer mustards (the Applewood Smoked Bacon is my favorite flavor, but not all flavors are gluten-free)
  • Organicville mustard and ketchup (they also have great dressings)
  • Sir Kensington’s mayonnaise (I prefer the Fabanaise, which is vegan and you can’t tell the difference)
  • Stubb’s barbecue sauces and marinades (not sure if all are CGF so check the labels to make sure)

Gluten-free beers and ciders:

By the way, if you’re not super sensitive as I am, Wegman’s is a great store that makes their own non-certified gluten-free products.

I can’t forget about the smores:


al-man's fire
Al Man’s “All Summer Long” fire

Some good tips:

  • Bring with you little foil pans (like the ones you get in the dollar store for baked goods) to cook your own food with to avoid cross-contamination or confusion of whose food is whose
  • Pack your ingredients in a cool bag (I buy random totes at Dollar-Tree, like Star Wars themed or whatever)
    • I also like to put my condiments in tiny Tupperware containers
  • Bring your own beer or cider (a key-chain bottle opener is always a good idea)


Now onto the good stuff.  I make a killer potato salad, which you can use eggs or not. I think if you make a good enough potato salad, people will enjoy eating it all year-round.

This is my gluten-free (easily vegan) potato salad based from a Hellman’s potato salad recipe:

  • 2 lbs. red potatoes (5-6 medium sized potatoes, which I boil for about 20-25 minutes and let cool down) cut into 3/4th inch chunks
  • 1 cup of Sir Kensington’s Fabanaise (or any mayonnaise you choose)
  • 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar (Bragg’s is one of the best)
  • 1 ½ tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp organic sugar
  • ¼ tsp ground pepper (be careful with spices, because they tend to have gluten cross-contamination… I use Dion spices, which are cheap and organic)
  • 1 stalk thinly sliced celery
  • ½ cup of chopped red onion
  • 4 hard-boiled organic eggs (boil eggs for 5-6 minutes then put them in an ice bath for about 10 minutes…or leave the eggs out if you want a vegan option)

Throw ingredients in a bowl and stir with a spoon (don’t over-do it as not to mash your potatoes).

And there you have it!  Check in with me next time for my favorite Fall dessert recipe. Live life, have fun, and don’t overthink anything! Enjoy!


Yours truly,


A. Dawn

Intro: Gluten: My Old Frenemy

Photo by Blake Wisz on Unsplash

I hope they serve tacos in hell.

Or just anywhere they won’t make me sick.

I have been dealing with Celiac disease (not silly-ass disease as I heard it called) for about a lifetime, but it manifested itself in my mid 20’s. Bye-bye artisanal beer!  Bye-bye convenience of eating out anywhere!  Bye-bye social life—sort of!

By the way, Celiac disease is an auto-immune disorder (your body attacks itself) when ingesting gluten (a protein in wheat). In case you don’t believe in Science, Celiac disease does exist and is literally a pain in the ass. Wheat is in everything from spices to pills, even beauty products. It is typically genetic, but may possibly be caused by a virus, too.

And if you think so many people would be gluten-free as a “fad,” you are oblivious. It is not a fad for me, but my daily life. It has changed my life to the point where my social life plummeted for quite a bit. Think about it: our lives revolve around going out to eat? Whether it’s fast-food, diner food, or an expensive restaurant, I can never be too sure or safe. I have not eaten fast-food in five years and do not miss any of it. I simply miss having a care-free attitude about what I eat, not constantly panicking I am going to get sick. And the sickness doesn’t just go away in an hour or day. It can last for a week, hence I do a tremendous amount of cooking at home. Luckily, I am a great cook and throw dinner parties as to have a social life again: I am that sensitive.

If you are a waiter or bartender and someone says “gluten-free,” please don’t sigh and roll your eyes. There are millions of people out there who have Celiac and gluten-sensitivity. What are some symptoms?  Let me share with you some gross symptoms for funsies:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Canker sores
  • Bloating
  • Dermatitis

Okay, I think you have been grossed out enough. Here are some unpleasant, but not so gross symptoms:

  • Anxiety (I call it “Hulking”— like your skin is crawling from the inside and you want to explode)
  • Brain fog (I can’t remember anything or say really dumb things…totally the gluten’s fault)
  • Feeling sad for no apparent reason
  • Restlessness and sleeping problems (mostly falling and staying asleep)
  • Racing thoughts
  • Joint pain (there have been times I have to roll myself out of bed)
  • Social isolation (reference above…I was told by a guy he wouldn’t date me because I couldn’t go everywhere to eat…foodies are hardcore!)

There are disorders related to Celiac, too:

  • IBS
  • Arthritis
  • MS
  • Thyroid problems (hyper or hypo)
  • Type 1 Diabetes
  • Anxiety/Depression
  • Autism

These symptoms sound like they can be other disorders, right? I eliminated other possible disorders as a main cause of my of my problems by keeping a food journal. If you don’t know what a food journal is, you mark every time you eat something (what it is and what time you ate it including the brand if that applies). I figured out it takes 36 hours from when I ingest gluten that I have symptoms. Even the smallest bit of cross contamination…like when people who work in a restaurant pick out the croutons of a salad then serve it, I get sick. If it is bad enough, then symptoms occur within an hour. The mystifying part is everyone absorbs gluten differently and has varying levels of reactions. If you went gluten-free and it didn’t work, you’re either not trying hard enough or you are right and it’s not gluten that is your problem. I know, sounds dumb, right?  I have heard this before, that people said they went back after eating gluten-free to eating wheat, they felt sick. Their conclusion was that being gluten-free did not work. It is not because you have not had wheat in three weeks. I don’t get sick if I didn’t have rice in three weeks, because I am not allergic to it. It means you are allergic to wheat. That’s for you to find out on your own.

Just a tip, if you think you have Celiac want to be absolutely positive, don’t go on a gluten-free diet yet until you get tested—the results will be negative. Testing for food allergies is typically a gamble or at least in my opinion of what I experienced. A doctor once told me not to be gluten-free, because it is “too hard.” Literally, if you are not getting the right advice, trust your gut.

On top of feeling physically like crap, the emotional part can be even worse. Here are some tips on how I deal:

  • Exercise (probably the most important part, even if it’s just a walk)
  • Get outdoors (goes along with exercise, but even sitting outside helps)
  • Netflix binge if you can’t go outside (the more mindless the better)
  • Do your research. I am still learning after five years
  • Do something creative or get a hobby
  • Go out and socialize
  • If you’re feeling particularly grumpy, do the opposite and turn off your phone for a little while. Tune out.

I know being gluten-free is an immense challenge and messes with your life. But if you need to be gluten-free, it can be the best thing you ever did. I will be here for you all suffering, growing, and learning. Growing up as an Italian-American, I know how it can be frustrating not to have wheat. Over time (it has gotten tremendously easier with knowledge and gluten-free products available), you will learn to live gluten-free or help someone you care about who has to. A lot of gluten-free products are not healthy either, so be careful. Doctors warn people about going gluten-free, because there are not nutritional additives in gluten-free food we would normally eat (assuming people are idiots and won’t eat nutritious food, vitamins are added to junk food). You can get nutrition supplemented by eating food with nutrients (fruits especially because sugar is not a typical additive in gluten-free foods…unless you are getting junk foods, but that is not the right type of sugar either). I learned the hard way and had lots of sugar crashes when I first started going gluten-free. You can make a balanced diet. I found I ate much healthier by eating gluten-free (organic, non-GMO, non-processed foods, whole foods), when I found my balance and you can, too.

I will leave you with this:  Life is a journey. It may as well be a healthy, enjoyable one. You can and will enjoy life being gluten-free. I will hold your hand on that journey with recipes, tips, information, resources, and life-experiences. Feel free to message me with any questions at

Yours truly,

A. Dawn


Intro: Enhanced Life: A Vision of an Enhanced Life


I have been in the counseling world since I was a teenager. I was involved in support groups for kids my age, church groups for kids who needed something constructive and a safe social group, and working with my guidance counselor on strategies while reading every book he would give me on therapy.

As I grew in my education and experience, some common themes began to appear to me:

1) People by and large struggle with some very common challenges in life.

2) Many people are not aware, when asked, why they have made big (and small) decisions in their lives.

3) The perspectives that people have on the world around them vary wildly, and people do not know where their individual perspectives came from.

4) These perspectives color the quality of every single person’s life, NO MATTER WHAT THEIR LIFE IS LIKE.

5) People cannot be helped unless they want to be.

6) Small changes in many areas of life can make a huge impact.

Using the research and education I have obtained through my schooling, as well as the thousands of hours of experience that I have had working with populations ranging from Autistic Spectrum Disorders to those who suffer from schizophrenia, to depression, anxiety, medical issues, to successful business owners, clergy, law enforcement, other psychologists, and with age groups ranging from womb to tomb, and some excellent supervisors and colleagues, I have been further developing a way to lift the veil of our own perspectives (or paradigms, as I have come to call them). Pairing this with practical habit changes, I have seen a lot of positive changes in the lives of those whom I have worked with.

My vision of an enhanced life is one where people are aware of their own paradigms, and not slaves to them. My vision is a life of purpose, meaning, and positive perspectives. This world is one where everyone benefits. I have not seen one person who could not benefit from learning these tools, and I have seen the great things that can happen when people take hold of their own perspectives, own them, and grow from changing them.

I hope everyone who reads this can be a part of this vision.

Intro: Love Lies Within: A Guide to Personal Growth

Photo by Dingzeyu Li on Unsplash

My life is a constant exercise in learning. I grow, I get scared, I wait, and I grow again. All lessons become opportunities for growth. On a daily basis, I make a choice between Love or Fear; Forgiveness or Guilt; Peace or Conflict. This column will be some of my deepest lessons, most profound realizations, and most loving connections with others. I burgeon self-development through hugging, writing, reading, and talking with others. Join me for the ride of your Life. ♥