The Inside Scoop

On vacation with Armando’s family in June

Hi. Hello. I’m back!

I haven’t posted anything for almost two months. The world seems like a scary, evil, and mislead place to be in right now. I needed to shut off the noise for a little while and here’s why…

In January of this year (2020) my husband, Armando, had a major surgery to remove a tumor on his adrenal gland. A tumor we found out about just two months prior. His 3-4 hour surgery turned into 9 hours with me in the waiting room joined by my sister in law. Well, turns out this tumor they removed was not only stuck to the surrounding organs, but it was also cancerous – Adrenocortical Carcinoma. A rare form of slow growing cancer that attacks, you guessed it, the adrenal glands.

Here’s some back story: Armando had complaints about stomach pain and cramping for 2 years before this time. We were making long drives from Pittsburgh to Virginia Beach every few weeks for 3 months back in 2018. Every time we got in the car he felt this weird cramping that he couldn’t pin point. Fast-forward about 8 months after that, we moved into a condo in Virginia, newlyweds, trying to jump start our careers and navigate being in new state with no family and just each other.

One night shortly after, at about 2AM Armando wakes me up in excruciating pain and tells me to call an ambulance. He is sweaty, shivering, clammy, doubled over in pain, and half naked kneeling over the toilet in our bathroom throwing up. I call 911 and they come to the house. Armando can’t walk at all from being weak and in pain that I help him down the stairs and the EMTs get him on a stretcher to check out his vitals. All clear, but we head to the hospital and they give him some potassium drink and fluids to hydrate him.

Two weeks later, repeat at 3AM. Except we drove ourselves to the hospital this time (hello ambulance bill). We were told for him to find a PCP, and they gave us a referral for him to see a Gastro-Intestinal doctor. We don’t have insurance in Virginia at this point so no PCP, but we go see the GI doctor who puts Armando through a colonoscopy and endoscopy with still nothing they can see wrong with him. They do an empty stomach test and an ultrasound – nothing.

All the while, life is happening. We both lose our jobs within two weeks of each other, traveling once a month to Pittsburgh for Armando’s National Guard duties, trying to figure out marriage, and having no friends or local support system.

After the GI doctor visits, we researched and decided to go gluten free. Things got better! No more intense pain episodes, but he was still having a lot of cramping and it was more painful than before that it would inhibit his entire day. At the time, he was working a labor job – if you’ve been in this field, you know how un-forgiving this field can be when you call off the morning of work in so much pain you can’t move.

Gluten-Free seemed like the game-changer. Until it wasn’t.

Armando had started a new job in September of 2019 with out of state required training for at least 8 weeks. Fast forward to another training week in November and Armando is on his way home Friday night about a 5 hour drive. He calls me and says something is wrong – he can’t breath and his chest hurts so bad he feels like it is going to pop. We chat on the phone for a while and I tell him to pull over and call an ambulance. His family has a history of heart disease, and while he is only 25 years old, at that point in life, we weren’t ruling anything out. He calls an ambulance and they take vitals and an EKG which all look good, but he was in so much and clutching his stomach they take an ambulance ride to the nearest hospital (2 hours from our home) and Armando tells me where they are headed. I hope in the car, on the phone with my mom to calm me down, and I make it to the hospital in record time – sorry not sorry.

I get to the ER just in time that he is squirming around on the bed in pain and they finally come in to give him some pain medication to calm him down. Their expert diagnosis is either 1) He is a drug addict asking for pain meds or 2) He is passing a kidney stone and he’ll be fine in a few days. Literally what they suggest to us. I tell the PA about his history and she says the Urologist recommended they keep him for a few hours then let him go to pass the suggested kidney stone(s).

Here’s the part that gives me chills every time.

The PA comes back into the room a little while later and Armando is resting/sleeping now (thanks to the pain meds). She tells me the radiologist took another look at his scans and saw something strange so they want to take him for another test real quick.

They come back and start rushing around. It’s about 9pm at this point and Armando is in pain again. The PA tells us that the last test they did showed that his abdomen is completely full of blood/fluid. What. She says they cannot see what is causing it or where it is coming from so they tell us they are calling a helicopter to life-flight him to the closest equipped hospital for an emergency procedure to stop the bleeding. The PA pulls me aside and tells me how sorry she is that they didn’t believe him and she tells me that this radiologist very well have may have saved his life. If they had done what was planned – to let him sit for a few more hours to “pass a kidney stone” he could have bled out internally. *Chills*

At this point, I’m holding it together by a thread.

I remember trying to be strong for Armando who is laying next to me on a hospital bed, exhausted from pain, worried about me of all people and our future and whose going to take care of me. Talk about a selfless man. We are both sitting in that ER hospital room hoping the helicopter shows up in time to get him where he needs to go and praying that this is not the plan God had for us.

The flight team arrives, gets him transferred over to the stretcher and taken to the pad for his life-flight 15min by air, 60 minute by car for me. This was the hardest “goodbye” moment in my life to date. Neither one of us had any idea what to expect. I took a video of him taking off in this helicopter and it breaks my heart to this day listening to my voice break and sobbing on that video while I watch Armando fly off.

I make my 60 minute trek in 30minutes – again, not sorry. I have my mom on the phone with me praying in my ear and trying to soothe me enough to drive through blurry eyes. I call Armando’s sister and brother who jump in their car and start driving to meet us from 3 hours away. I honestly couldn’t even tell you what happens when I got to the new hospital in Richmond. My next memory is sitting in the triage bay waiting for him to go back and then sitting in a tiny waiting room with Armando’s siblings, eating some snacks, and distracting each other. Armando gets out of the procedure around 1AM. It went well, they stopped what they could see, but they also saw an unfamiliar mass they weren’t sure about. This part is a blur – I think we went back to the triage bay waiting for a post-op room? I don’t remember to be honest. His siblings headed out for the night and I know I sat in an uncomfortable folding chair until about 5AM when Armando got a private room. I slept for about 30minutes in that post-op room when his siblings showed up again in around 7AM when we got a sent up to an actual room and spent three more days in the hospital. The conclusion was that they stopped the bleed, and now his body needed time to re-absorb all of the blood/fluid that was floating around freely in his abdomen. They would have to wait for the body to re-absorb this blood in order for them to take a closer look at the mass they saw. They also decided this was a great time to throw the C-word [cancer] around without even seeing the mass so that was a lot of fun (total sarcasm).

Armando and I got home from this hospital trip the day before Thanksgiving. I made a few side dishes for the holiday and one of Armando’s coworkers actually brought us 2 plates of their own family’s Thanksgiving meal which was really sweet. Armando was put on light work duty for two months while they wait for the blood to re-absorb and we spent the next two months driving back and forth to the hospital that was two hours away for more scans, scheduling surgery, and talking to every possible specialist that was involved. Lucky for us, we got one of the top surgeons in the U.S. assigned for his surgery.

The new year comes around and surgery is scheduled mid January for 3-4hours, which turns into 9hours. One week of recovery in the hospital and Armando is down a 13cm cancerous tumor, one adrenal gland, a part of his kidney, and a small hole patched up in this diaphragm. He had to relearn how to breath, stand up straight, walk, and use his abdomen for everyday tasks. After this week in the hospital, it was another two weeks off of work, and light duty for at least 6 more weeks. He now has a scar of about 10inches across his stomach, little to no feeling in his lower left abs (totally normal), and as of July 2020 he is a cancer survivor with his first post-op scan completely clear!! Praise the Lord!

So, this. This is why.

Life is short. Life is precious. Life is scary.

Life is an adventure.

This is an adventure Armando never imagined. It’s an adventure I never imagined. But. It’s part of our story now. It’s a part of Armando’s history now and our children’s history for their medical charts someday.

It wasn’t the adventure we expected or booked a plane ticket for. It wasn’t the adventure of a honeymoon we strived to go on or an item we picked from our bucket list as newlyweds.

Regardless.

It’s the adventure we were dealt. Despite all of the hard, the stress, the pain, the tears, and the frustration – this “adventure” grew our marriage and strengthened our relationship in more ways than we thought possible.

Sometimes we all need time to breath. We need time to step away from all of the outside noise, and come back to the things, people, and experiences (good and bad) we are grateful for. For me among others, I pray for the radiologist at that small town hospital and thank God for using them to save my husband’s life.

This Is Our Wake-Up Call.

Dear America,

This is our wake-up call. Our world is threatened by a pandemic and how do we react?

In the beginning, some react in panic and buying up all of the groceries and toilet paper we can find while others react with a nonchalant attitude and shrugged shoulders to what’s happening around the world.

Is there a right or wrong response?

With re-opening starting and supposedly coming in waves or phases – how will we react? Will everyone flood the streets at once or will we ease back into a new “normal”?

These past few months have been really difficult for a lot of people, my family included. We have been stressed, scared, anxious, full of worry, fear, and even anger. So many want our neighbors to respond a certain way or government leaders to respond a certain way. Right now, everyone thinks they know what’s best and what everyone else should be doing.

The truth is though…this is new. Everyone is doing the best that they can with the tools they are equipped with. Yes, you will always have those with selfish and ill intent, but in the end they are always exposed. There is no sense in trying to judge or spot the blame in others. Focus on yourself and what YOU can do.

Our nurses, doctors, and healthcare professionals are working around the clock 16hour days/7 days a week to make sure their patients and residents are cared for to reduce the risk of exposure with too many staff members. Our farmers are reacting the best they can to keep up with the food demand and produce being required of them. Our husbands, dads, and siblings along with wives, single parents and grandparents are all doing their best to put food on the table and pay their bills on time.

This is not a one-size-fits-all situation.

I saw it written online that yes, we are going through this together, but we are not in the same place going through this. Some people are not very affected by this pandemic financially, some are. Some have not known or experienced personal loss due to this virus, while some have. We were all quarantined and on lock down for the same few months – our introverts aren’t minding it so much, our extroverts are screaming on the inside to get out and talk to other humans. Some are quarantined in a home life full of abuse, illness, or loneliness, some are joking about spending so much time with their loved ones that they usually don’t get, but crave.

We are all going through this pandemic, but we are not all in the same place.

I encourage you to take this time of re-opening and the past two months of isolation into your own reflection and introspection of yourself. How will you react to the news that is shown from now on? The decisions our leaders make? The neighbor or shopper who stands 2 feet behind you instead of 6?

Use this time as a wake up call. How we react to external factors and circumstances are a direct reflection of who we are and where our hearts lie.

What do you want to reflect to those around you?

Think about that. How you react to your neighbors, husband, wife, children, family, friends, even strangers during this time of uncertainty shows your character.

Let us choose kindness, patience, and a positive attitude with a side of caution.

A space for this and a space for that.

Does anyone else have designated spots or spaces throughout their house for different activities?

Let me explain.

Desk = Work from home, or family budgets, monthly to do’s
Bed = Sleep
Dining Room Table = Eat
Kitchen Bar = Crafting station, Breakfast nook
Patio/Couch = Reading, Personal Development, Quiet time, TV show, etc.
Living Room = Workout space, Spending time with my family

Does this sound like anyone else?

There is actually quite a bit of scientific evidence about certain tasks in designated spaces being beneficial for our bodies and brains. I remember reading about our beds and if we lay in bed and do a bunch of random tasks or scrolling social media, etc. then our brains have a hard time doing the things you are supposed to do – like sleep. We have to train our brains. If you train your brain that bed = sleep, then when you lay down at night your body and brain will adjust and realize that being in bed means it is time to sleep.

Another example while many of us are working from home during the pandemic is having a designated work space. Have you heard your boss or HR reps mass emailing about this on your new work-from-home adventure?

Pick a spot: leave your work computer, paper, and whatever else you need for work in that space. Anytime you sit down at that desk, kitchen bar, dining room table, pop up card table, where ever it is – your brain will follow suit that that space means it is time to work and be productive. Make sure to take necessary breaks to get up and stretch your legs, but that spot will now register as “productive space”.

This is what I mean by having a space for this and a space for that.

I encourage you to try it out this coming week and just see how your brain/body react to it. You may notice higher energy and productivity in your work space or an easier time falling asleep at night in bed, or maybe even an easier time relaxing and de-stressing using one designated space to breath/reflect/meditate/pray.

Don’t forget to tell me in the comments if you already use this idea or when you decide to try it out!

What many DON’T mention about going Dairy Free

Dairy free to some sounds terrible, to others it sounds like less stomach aches, but more money spent on groceries. We are the latter. At first, I was the first – dairy free sounded AWEFUL when thinking of dinners and making food for our little family. However, dairy also didn’t sit well with Armando and he frequently ended up with a stomach ache and a few trips to the bathroom (sorry for the TMI, but it’s natural so ya know).

At first, dairy-free sounded like the worst thing in the world to a 24 year old new wife who was already trying to find her way around the kitchen. Until it didn’t. Thankfully I have a friend who is vegan that shares a lot about her journey on instagram and I am SO grateful for her. I reached out to her about the best cheese substitutes, butter, milk, cooking substitutes. You name it, I probably asked her and/or spent hours researching it online. It was mostly trial and error for the cooking and baking side of things. We were already living a gluten free lifestyle for a little under a year when we decided to try diary free too. I had JUST finally gotten the hang of checking labels for added gluten and finding the tastiest and not so tasty gluten free options. Now it was time to do the same for dairy.

Among the substitutes of dairy and out bodies reacting really well the first few weeks, there are also some ugly side effects that most don’t talk about. I’m truly glad that my vegan friend on instagram did and opened up about it right at the time I was starting to notice it in myself and Armando.

Acne.

Yep. Lovely, right?

I am middle-eastern so I already have oily olive colored skin that can be hard to keep clean and free of excess oil. Well dairy threw a wrench in that real quick. Armando started noticing he was breaking out a lot in the first 1-3 months we made the switch. I didn’t notice too much starting out (hi oily skin thanks for that), but about the time his face really started to clear up and glow I noticed mine was not. My face was not clearly up and it was getting worse than I ever remembered. During this time, my friend on instagram posted her before and after of a side profile of her face when she cutting dairy out of her life to 6-12months later and the difference was incredible! Her skin was glowing, completely clear, and healthy looking. She caught my attention – once again – and I reached out with a “Hey this may be TMI, but since we started being dairy free I am having horrible acne breakouts.” One, vulnerability is hard. Two, I knew she had just gone through something similar and had posted about it. Her input and advice that day helped me understand WHY these breakouts were more happening, how to help alleviate it, and lastly what more I can expect. Talk about a life(skin)-saver.

A few helpful tips and tricks she gave me were:
1. Try a fruit detox for 3 days.
2. Stay hydrated.
3. Keep away from oily products.
4. Try and keep your face dry, but slightly hydrated with a facial mist.
5. Vitamin B5, a lot of it! (Your body excretes what it doesn’t need, which is why if you take any B vitamins you may notice your pee being extra yellow – that’s just extra that your body didn’t need – no need for alarm!)

Lastly, she recommended I research more online and some other ideas because everyone is different. So I did and ya know what… I’m still working on clearing my skin up, but this is something I feel like most people don’t tell you about when you adopt a dairy-free way of living.

This isn’t me telling you “here is a fix all”. This is me being vulnerable and sharing a struggle I’ve been going through for the last 6-8 months since adding a new “-free” to our lifestyle. Dairy-free, we are here to stay so this acne can just clear the heck up at any time. Thanks in advance.

Love,
Sarcastic and Over-It Rissa ❤

That one time we went camping…

Oh you’ll love this one!

Before Armando and I moved to Virginia we were visiting every week or two for interviews and pre-employment stuff for the job Armando was looking to get upon on our move. We wanted to try and save money with our wedding coming up. His parent’s had gotten me a 4-person tent for Christmas because they knew how much I loved being outdoors and wanted to do more camping. Armando and I had the bright idea to save the money we were spending on hotels and just take the tent and a cooler with us from Pittsburgh and go camping at First Landing Park in Virginia Beach for some pre-employment stuff and to look for an apartment to live in.

Mind you, it is June. In Virginia.

So we pack the tent, a cooler, some clothes, and I come up with a small list of supplies we’ll need to buy when we make the 8hour trip to Virginia Beach and make a stop to stock up on camping essentials. Off we go!

Armando and I have a blast in the care together. We talked for the 8hours straight, or listen to “safe zone” music that we both enjoy. For whatever reason, we always have fun in the car together and this trip was no exception. Eight hours later we make it to Virginia, head to Walmart and get some bread, peanut butter, bacon, water bottles, portable phone charging block – ya know, the essentials.

We make our way to First Landing and get checked in then head to our spot. You park your car at the top of the camping plot right off the road and then walk a few short steps downhill to a little dugout. It’s nice and shaded, with one of those fire pit rings already set up.

“Do you want to set up the tent or go get firewood?” Armando asks me.

“Set up the tent!” I answered all giddy to set up the tent I got for Christmas.

So Armando leaves and I turn around to get started on the tent. I’m already sweating and swatting at bugs I can feel, but can’t see. Fun Fact: Mosquitoes love me, and I mean LOVE me. I pick up the tiny little tent bag thinking how in the world someone fit a 4-person tent in this thing and start to take out all the pieces. It dawns on me that I don’t have a clue how to set up this tent and there are no directions in the bag. What am I supposed to do now?! …Clearly the answer was to wait for Armando to get back and beg for his help…

Armando comes back and I had successfully got all of the pieces out of the tent and had them laying on the ground in an order that I assumed made sense. Needless to say, he got the firewood and set up the tent with a very small amount of help from me. I made the tent all cute with a comforter for cushion (which was promptly removed shortly after placement for being “too hot”) and then added a light sheet because well it was 90degrees and 170% humidity.

We were legit miserable at this point. Even just laying perfectly still, we were dripping sweat. Armando was sweaty and hot. I was sticky with sweat, frizzy hair, and being eaten alive by bugs who were also sticking to my sweaty skin. It was great. Everything was just peachy. We tried to make the best of it and made dinner and smores to put us in a better mood so Armando got the fire going and I got the food ready. The food was great, but the fire was soo hot it made us more irritated at this point.

After dinner, we remembered our spot was close to the beach access! Nice, cool ocean water, now that would be refreshing! Off we went on a walk to find the beach. A few short cuts through some neighboring campgrounds later, we trudged up the dunes breathing heavier than we should have been and found the beach on the other side. It was gorgeous and the breeze felt amazing! We spent 20minutes soaking it in then headed back to our campsite before dark.

We climbed in the tent around 8-8:30pm that night, I grabbed a book light to try and make the most of myself sticking to the tent with sweat, tasting my own saltiness. There was nothing cute about us being in that tent. No cute pictures to take, no cuddling because we would have just stuck to each other and made each other even hotter, and we honestly were not even talking at this point. I knew Armando was miserable. He doesn’t do well in heat and the humidity was so terrible that day. Me? Well, I was completely miserable too, don’t be fooled. I am also the biggest “glass half full” human you’ll ever meet, which drives Armando crazy about 98% of the time. This was one of those times.

I went along bouncing about in the tent trying to make conversation or make a “dad-joke”, which is my only form of joke-making that I’m pretty positive Mondo laughs at out of pity majority of the time. Armando said he was just going to go to bed so I laid in the tent next to him, quiet as a mouse, hoping I could actually fall sleep in the humidity.

Not even 10minutes later, he broke the silence – “I’m just going to go sleep in the car with the AC on, you have fun in here babe” and he started to get up and climb out of the tent. I jumped up and asked if we could just make it through the night in the actual tent. This was one of the first times I’ve ever seen Armando completely serious in demeanor, he looked me in the eyes and said “You can sleep in the tent if you want, but I’m f*cking miserable and I’ll be sleeping in the car with the AC on.”

This was way beyond me trying to “glass-half-full” the situation.

After about a 60-second conversation, we came to the very quick agreement to tear down the tent as fast as we could, put the fire out, pack up the coolers and the car, and find somewhere with AC to sleep for the night. Ya’ll that was record time to tear all that stuff down and pack the car. I think we were in the car with the AC on full blast within 5minutes. Tops.

We pulled out of First Landing Park and into a Red Roof Inn, showered off the sweat and bug spray, had the AC set to 65 degrees and asleep by 9:30pm.

That was a huge fail.

We get to keep that comical “camping” trip in our memories though and add it to the pile of Adventures with Mondo and Rissa as we like to call it.

Side note, I have not been able to convince Armando to go camping with me since this incident. No lie. We were supposed to re-do our camping trip and go in October that same year for my birthday. There was coincidently a warning about a large number of ticks in the woods in Virginia around that time. Instead, Armando ended up setting up the tent in our apartment living room, ordering Chanelo’s pizza and wings, and we had a movie marathon all night/weekend. I can’t complain, that was one of the best birthday weekends I’ve ever had – who knew camping in your living room could be so fun!?

Note to self for the future: Don’t go camping in Virginia in June. Not a smart move unless you like having bugs stuck to your skin, tasting like salt and OFF bug spray, and ending up in a hotel by 9pm.

“Prayer is Wrestling”

Think of that for second.

I read this in my devotion this morning that was all about learning how to and how not to pray. Fitting for such a time as this.

We aren’t supposed to pray to catch God up on what’s going on in life – HE ALREADY KNOWS. The intention of prayer is wrestling between our Christ-likeness and the world.

Think about a wrestling match… if you’ve been too or watched a video of it. It’s intense! You watch two individuals in a designated 10×10 area (or less) twist, turn, duck, dive, and try to throw each other onto the floor to win. Both individuals walk off the mat sweaty, out of breath, and sometimes with cuts or bruises or red twist marks all over their body.

Do we pray like this?

Do we pray in a way that is a wrestling match between our hearts longing for Christ’s peace and shelter or do we walk on the mat and let ourselves get throw down in defeat?

Unmotivated.

Is anyone else feeling a sort of sluggish lack of motivation heading into month #2 of quarantine?

I’m typically an introvert, but I’m craving some human connection right now. To grab coffee with a friend, have a beach day with the husband, walk around Barnes and Nobles aimlessly reading the backs of books and adding them to my arm collection until I can’t fit anymore in my arms.

Anyone else?

At first I thought, “hey I’m an introvert, how hard can a quarantine be?!” I’ve been keeping up with my workouts, sitting on porch in the sun as much as possible, making new dinner and desert recipes to try, home projects around the house. All the things. But, I was very wrong. I miss leaving my house, I miss not worrying about being in large crowds of people, I miss my family, I miss the opportunity to leave my house if I wanted too.

I think that’s what it boils down too… having the opportunity to do something regardless of if we took advantage of the situation to begin with. As a rebellious kid I would hear someone tell me not to do this or that and all my brain heard was Go do that thing they said not too so you can decide for yourself.

Just ask my mom, she’ll tell you the truth. I was a little devil for a few years there. All jokes aside, it’s human nature to want to do what people tell us not too. That’s why you see people pushing limits and boundaries with this quarantine throwing big parties, etc. We want what we can’t have (or can’t do in this instance).

The mandate to stay indoors and keep those around us safe and healthy is extremely important. But that’s not to say we aren’t struggling with it… even the introverts are having a hard time at this point!!

Usually I’d be thrilled if you told me I had to stay home instead of face humans for the day. Today, PLEASE TELL ME I CAN GO OUTSIDE AND TALK TO HUMANS AGAIN. It’s a whole new mood I’ve never experienced to be honest.

If anyone has any tips for staying sane during quarantine or keeping motivation throughout your day – share them in the comments below!!

Quarantine: Week One Diary

I’m bored.

Like utterly, completely, mind numbingly BORED.

Quarantine life didn’t seem like a big change from my regular life to be honest. I work from home quite a bit as is, but I didn’t realize how much I craved getting out of the house. Now there are no date nights for dinner and a movie, no random mall window shopping, no calling a friend for coffee dates, none of that.

It’s hard.

I’m sure you are feeling it too. I keep seeing people posting about “keep in touch through technology” and “post what you’re doing to pass the time”, ya’ll I’m just straight up in sloth-mode.

Enneagram 9 here – hi! My “deadly” sin is being a sloth and this quarantine is not helping.

I’ve done as many home projects as I can with the materials I have, I’ve rearranged the kitchen twice already too. My goal has been to stay off social media and catch up on reading some books I have. Can you guess what I’ve done with my time?

Walk around my house aimlessly, walk to the kitchen for a snack, workout at home in a 5×3 foot space, and yup – SCROLL SOCIAL MEDIA. For. Six. Hours. Straight.

I’m not proud of it.

Today was the first day I sat and read a “fun” book – as I call it – for 2hours straight. I have my morning devotion books that I read an excerpt of each morning, my “fun” book, and my knowledge book or personal development book. It probably sounds crazy to you… who else reads books like that?

Someone tell me I’m not alone here…

My goal from now until the end of this quarantine, which has now been extended to June 10th, I will read more and scroll less. Ya’ll are my accountability. Watch that book suggestion topic take off!

What are ya’ll doing with your quarantine time?

Gluten Free General Tso Chicken with recipe!

When we went gluten and dairy free, I thought we could never eat Chinese food again besides the rice and veggies. Armando loves General Tso Chicken, but it’s breaded. We found out PF Chang’s has a gluten-free menu, but my goodness it’s expensive! For two of us, it’s about $70 for dinner. We can’t do that every time we crave Chinese food!

Well this weekend is Armando’s birthday and I wanted to try something special since we are on a bit of a budget this year. I can’t take him out to a fancy dinner or go Go-Karting like last year, I always find or do something outlandish for his birthday because he “hates” birthdays and holidays. How can you hate your own birthday?! For his 23rd birthday when we were just dating, I covered his room in assorted color balloons all over the floor, bed, computer desk, closet, and had his presents waiting on his nightstand for him. Then for his 24th birthday when he was still chewing tobacco, I covered his room in blue balloons, had a giant 2-4 on his wall, and had chew cans tied to the balloon strings with 24 reasons why I loved him. I know I’m extra and also cheesy. Sue me. For his 25th, we went Go-Karting for a whole day and I covered the downstairs of our house with balloons and had a tray of donuts and 2-5 balloons when he walked in the door from work. It’s kind of a tradition now to outdo myself for his birthdays!

This year, my something special (on a budget) consists of me cooking and baking a bunch of his favorite foods, all gluten and dairy free of course. Yesterday, to kick off the birthday weekend I decided to try my hand at Gluten Free General Tso Chicken. No dairy items needed, win-win!

I’m so incredibly thankful for Pinterest and the gem of a blog by Whitney Bond that I stumbled upon. I searched high and low for a recipe that was legit, but also easy enough that I could make it and it actually taste like it should.

For the many of you who asked for the recipe – click here for the Gluten Free General Tso Chicken recipe on Whitney’s blog!

Fair warning – even though she warns you also – this is very spicy! I forgot to turn my recipe page over to see the second page with the warning. So once it was done, we sat down to eat and Armando almost choked on the crushed red pepper flakes in his attempt to tell me it was spicy. Whoops. He’s good though! He’ll make it to 26! If you make this same mistake, just pour some honey over it before you dig in and it will sweeten it up for you.

I doubled the recipe for Armando, I and his cousin who is living with us amongst COVID-19, and I also negated the dried red chilies – only because I couldn’t find them in the stores.

This was absolutely delicious!! We had hardly enough leftover for lunch the next day! I highly recommend trying this one out!

100 Days To Brave

“What’s cool about your calling is that there are no dead ends. Even if you weren’t brave enough to pursue your last opportunity, you can be brave this time.”

Day 37 of 100 Days to Brave written by Annie F. Downs

100 Days to Brave: A daily devotional by Annie F. Downs.

To be honest, I doubted getting this book at first thinking that a book couldn’t make me more courageous in my daily life. At least not one that looked so small in dimensions and had that overused arrow on the cover. I’m here to admit I judged this book by its cover, which is like Book Lover 101 not to judge a book by it’s cover – but I did (sorry Annie). I still got it though on a leap of faith/bravery and I am so glad I did! I’m only a little more than half way through and it’s been a life-changer for me. I am all about little books that challenge me each day.

I started this book January 1st to kick off a personal goal of mine to become braver, more assertive, and live courageously. Yes, it’s been almost 100 days. No, I’m not on the right day… because well, life happens.

Regardless, I recommend this book to anyone looking for a new challenge each day to take a brave step: whether it’s your calling, career, friendships, relationships, family, whatever it may be. Annie writes from her heart. She writes like she cares, because she does. She shares personal losses and wins in her life. She shares times when saying “no” is needed and the right thing to do and she shares times when she said “no” and it was what God was calling her too. Each day ends with a “Be Brave” challenge for the day. Sometimes it’s to call a friend you haven’t talked to for a while and getting out of your comfort zone, other days it is to confide in someone close to you about your current struggles and trials in life. Each word of her book is beautifully well-written to instill courage and bravery in our every days lives.

We can’t always talk about the good. Sometimes we need to get into the “ugly” stuff and dredge it up to truly feel, make peace with, and understand the lessons we learn and sometimes the lessons we repeat two, three, sometimes four times. The point is to focus on the brave actions we take, big or small. Every decision we make is a chance to be brave, and we make decisions every day!

For me, I love to read this little devotion first thing in the morning either before or after my morning workout with a cup of coffee and my journal. I love to read and reflect on the author’s words, challenge myself with the “Be Brave” end notes then journal about what I read and how it applies to me. At times that journal entry is just a few quick sentences, other times… it’s four pages long.

I’m not the most assertive human and I’m not the bravest human. My biggest criticism I receive is to be more assertive: career and personal life. For me, assertiveness is a bravery thing. The courage that it takes me to muster up having a confrontational discussion is like THREE months worth all wrapped up in a 20minute conversation. It’s grueling to me. Especially if I muster that courage and no action is made on the receiving end. Or I gather the strength to have that conversation and am dismissed completely. Then I have to get myself together again to do the same thing- sometimes over and over and over. It’s horrifying to me. It used to be physically painful where I would complain, cry, or just flat out give up and let people do what they wanted no matter how much it hurt me personally. I had (and have) such a hard time with this. People would walk all over me and honestly some still do. I’ve been working on being brave, more assertive, and standing up for myself for over three years now. I’m happy to report I have made progress, but I’m not perfect by any means. It still takes me a harsh pep talk to myself and some giant prayers to my God to take those brave steps. Here I am though. Continually working on myself, showing up for me and just trying to take that next brave step towards my purpose and calling in life. One of my favorite quotes from this devotion so far is:

“God knows we need dreams in pieces because we would be too scared of the whole puzzle.”

Day 25 of 100 Days to Brave written by Annie F. Downs

How true that is. We desperately want to see the big picture and be in the know and 100% informed on the plans for our life, right?

So if I’m overwhelmed with the small daily decisions, and I saw the big picture He truly had in store for me, I can guarantee you I’d be absolutely terrified. I think we all would be. That’s why Annie says later on in her book, “a little yes can be a step in the right direction, even if it isn’t a leap (Day 53, 100 Days To Brave).”

Take your next step, be brave.

…and by that I mean buy her book, duh!


If you want to read more about Annie F. Downs as an author or about this book, 100 Days to Brave, click here.