As I reflect on 2016, I think back to that cold day in March when I decided I would start blogging about my gluten-free journey. I was talking to my husband one night and I told him how frustrated I was with obstacles that our son, Nathan, and I faced every single day. The constant issues with school parties, dining out, sleepovers, mean kids, unsupportive friends and family, and even irritation from soap and shampoo we used was frustrating.
He asked me if I had ever thought about writing about what we were experiencing, which I had not. He had been encouraging me to start writing again for many years since I gave up my journalism career to start a family, but I felt like I didn't have anything to write about, or nothing anyone would care about reading. But that night was different. I knew I had something to say and somebody out there needed to hear it. If I was having these challenges, then so are other people.
I've spent countless hours on research and dollars on a lot of awful products that nobody else should have to do. I've been "glutened" by foods I thought were safe. My son has been excluded from, well, just about everything. I thought it may be helpful to others with celiac disease or gluten intolerance, or who have children who do, to share our experiences--both good and bad. We've had a lot of both. I never in a million years thought I would start a blog, but it has been a rewarding experience and I'm so glad I did! My goal for GFree Genius is to continue to encourage, inspire and educate others who are facing or will face the same challenges my family has overcome or will experience.
In the beginning
So, what have I shared over the past nine months? A lot! As I began exploring gluten free topics to find my niche, I started my blog by writing a "letter" to my non-gluten free friends and family sharing a few of my frustrations and concerns, followed by my first gluten free recipe post--chicken and rice soup. I was getting all geared up for my first BIG blog post, a review of the Gluten Free and Allergy Friendly Expo in Atlanta, Georgia. The GFAF Expo is something Nathan and I look forward to all year long. We drove six hours from our home outside of Memphis, TN to Atlanta to have the opportunity to see and taste all of the latest and greatest gluten-free products. That event introduced me to many wonderful people and products to help launch my platform and discover my love for product reviews.
My first review was of Tiffany Hinton's cookbook, Mom Certified Celebrates Heritage Gluten Free. It was so much fun to test new recipes and share my family's opinion. I went on to test several products that were sent to me to sample, including Namaste Foods, Mazra Snacks, American Gluten Free subscription box, Kiss Freely lip and body products, and even the Nima sensor, the world's first portable gluten detector (click here to see Nima in action).
Gluten Free Restaurant Reviews
I expanded from reviewing products to restaurants! The first was Gluten Free Things in Arvada, CO. They sent me a box full of gluten free things to sample and I had the opportunity to visit their retail location later in the year and meet the engineer who created the perfect gluten free bread recipes. As my family planned vacations and business trips, we made sure to include visits to safe and delicious gluten free restaurants. Annie May's Sweet Cafe in Louisville, KY, Dempsey Bakery in Little Rock, AR, and Weezie's GF Kitchen in Fort Lauderdale, FL are just a few of my favorites that we visited this past summer and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend any of these! I am so blessed that I had the opportunity to sit down and interview the amazing people behind these dedicated gluten free establishments to hear their stories.
While helping others with celiac or gluten intolerance through reviews was rewarding, I wanted to do more to raise awareness and help people overcome some of the same obstacles my family faces. During National Preparedness Month I shared my GFree Genius Emergency Kit that I put together for my family in case of emergency, and I showed the GFree Genius Travel Kitchen, my Plan B for dining when there are no safe restaurants while on the road. During Celiac Awareness month, I shared tips from my experiences on how to survive the holidays with gluten-filled family events and a guide to giving the perfect gluten-free gift, and even produced a chocolate chip cookie taste test video! After meeting several other people at my church that can't eat gluten, I was able to make our church leaders aware of the need for gluten free communion wafers--something that was promptly addressed after they learned there was a need.
Sharing my own story of the ups and downs of parenting a gluten free child has introduced me to some amazing people and opportunities as well. After writing Unhappy Camper a post where I expressed my frustration of my then 10-year-old's experience at day camp, I met MI Gluten Free Gal through social media who shared about a gluten free camp in Michigan that would be completely safe for my son. She also recruited me to volunteer in the kitchen which will teach me so much about providing celiac safe meals to large numbers of people--something I hope to bring back to Mississippi to help kids here. I finally had the opportunity to meet MI Gluten Free Gal in person at the Food Allergy Bloggers Conference in Denver, CO, along with countless other rock stars/advocates in the celiac/food allergy world that have poured their knowledge into me.
I made new gluten free friends in the aisles of the grocery store by exchanging product recommendations and I even found a gluten free gem at the farmers market in my own back yard--Grass Fed Gals--a cottage bakery in my Mississippi hometown that makes the best banana bread and pineapple upside down baby butter cakes on the planet. I even met Rosie, a gluten-detection service dog trained by Creating New Tails, which was one of the coolest things I've ever seen!
What's new for 2017
I've learned so much in the past nine months since GFree Genius was born and I cannot wait for the opportunities to share with you in 2017. I look forward to sharing my experiences at gluten free expos, gluten free camp, more product and restaurant reviews, taste tests, recipes, shopping tips, and even the ups and downs of Nathan starting middle school on a gluten free diet! Did I mention giveaways? Yes, I hope to partner with companies for more giveaways in 2017! I met a lot of representatives of some amazing gluten free companies this past year. I look forward building relationships with these great companies and bringing you the latest and greatest products and services, and I will continue to raise awareness for celiac disease/gluten intolerance through GFreeGenius.com and on social media. Please share with a gluten free friend and join me on this amazing journey! Thank you for your support!
What was your favorite GFree Genius post of 2016? Click through the archives to see what we've been working on!
What would you like to see at GFree Genius in 2017? I want to hear from you! Please follow GFreeGenius on Facebook and Instagram.
Happy New Year!