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Humanity

July 2, 2019

It was sunny and a humid 93 degrees as I was driving along Bannister Road and moving slowly through thick traffic. Stopped at a light, I observed the backyard of a townhouse where a middle-aged man was on his knees in the grass with a not-yet-inflates swimming pool spread before him. He was fiddling with the pump to get things going. I don’t know who the pool was for: maybe grandchildren were coming over that evening, maybe he has a dog that needs help cooling off on steamy days, or maybe he just wanted to pull up a lawn chair, soak his feet in the cool water, and relax with a beer. I couldn’t think of a situation with that inflatable swimming pool that didn’t involve some combination of peace and joy, and it made my heart swell with happiness to catch a short glimpse of the good times to come.

I’ve passed her in the halls at work several dozen times. Her bleached short hair, her simple, no-nonsense clothing, earbuds always in place to shut out the world around her. She looks down, no eye contact, expressionless as her mind is lost in whatever she’s listening to, or maybe she’s very unhappy. Everything about her seems closed off from the present moment and I’ve wondered what she does here, if she has friends, and what she’s like outside of the corporate walls. I assume she’s an artist since she’s so independent and I’ve never seen her speak or walk with anyone else. And I laugh at my own stereotype of artists since I am one and know so many that are nothing like my perception of her. I can’t decide if I am worried about her loneliness or jealous of her utter lack of concern with anything going on around her. And then one day it happened. I passed her and saw her light up with a joyful smile, and my heart felt relief. But she wasn’t smiling at me.

The sun had finally come out that mild Saturday morning in May. I had recently finished getting all our garage sale items set back out in the driveway and sat down in my lawn chair. There was the usual mix of random household goods and clothing and toys that our girls no longer needed. A young family walked up, with a two-year-old boy, and he immediately made a beeline for the pink and purple colorful riding toy that Layla got for her first birthday. It was a car with a horn and little piano keys on the front that played different songs. He had barely begun to scoot around on it when his dad grabbed him and said “No son, that’s a girl toy.” And they walked away without purchasing anything.

I was leaving work one evening last Spring, walking through the long halls to get to the parking garage. My head was down, perusing my phone, but in my peripheral vision saw I had to slow to a halt because a man was stopped in the middle of the hallway. When I looked at him I saw him with his phone, pointed at the ceiling, and noticed a skylight there I had never seen before. The sky was blue and bright, with fluffy white clouds slowly passing above. After a long, dreary winter, I too shared his excitement of this unexpected view of the bright blue above. I was happy to slow and give him that moment, and overjoyed to happen upon someone finding beauty in unexpected places.

The concert was several songs into the show, and I observed the young woman slouched on the seat in front of me scrolling through her phone, which continued for much of the show. It was one of my all time favorite bands, and I felt judgmental, almost offended that she would waste a concert ticket to be there on her phone. But later at an interlude, the lead singer addressed the crowd, calling on anyone who’d ever felt different, like an outcast, and struggled to find their place in this world. I saw her take notice for the first time and raise her hand with hundreds of others. He told us all that we mattered, that we were enough, and that we all had something unique and special to offer this world, and then dedicated the next song to the crowd. Her demeanor changed dramatically, from a sullen, apathetic brat to a person who found her tribe. She danced and swayed and hugged those around her, and thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the show. I felt a pang if guilt for judging her initially, but was filled with gratitude as I watched her blossom in the dark midst of the crowd.

Presence

June 28, 2019

I miss you when I am away

Your laugh

Your smell

Your touch

The Golden hazy image of your smile and curls warm my soul

I dream of our next moments together

Envisioning the wild perfection that you are

And then you are next to me

The buzz of your breath and voice and body are powerful and unwavering

Your energy crushes and exhausts my quiet spirit.

I remember how I missed you before

And I breathe. This is what I dreamed of.

And I burn slowly as you ignite.

Poetry is for anxious writers

June 27, 2019

Writing is therapeutic for me, but like anything in my life, it’s easy to overthink. When my anxiety is high I get overwhelmed by the idea of writing a blog post. I don’t have the energy to compose and clarify, edit and smooth. So I just don’t do it. Which leads to stifling and bottling up of my thoughts, which I must corral and release for my health.

My therapist asked if I ever just journal in free form thoughts, without worrying about how it reads or who’s going to read it. Which I do, a little. But part of the joy in writing for me is the ability to connect and build relationships, which doesn’t happen in the confines of my bound paper journal. But free verse poetry is something I love to read and might be the perfect solution for my fickle mental discipline. More importantly, realizing and honing my artistic outlets is something I’m trying to fit into this life more. I know it’s one of the most original and intimate parts of me, and a gift I cannot keep to myself for fear or logistics or any other reason.

So, I’m introducing free verse poetry to this blog. And without further adieu, my poetic debut, about…poetry.

I’m tired

I’m unsure

Fear and discomfort constantly nag

The ideas and images

Thoughts and dreams

Swim in my brain like a current

Without form, boundaries or direction

There is beauty in the rough

The vague

The impulsive

Scattered thoughts for a scattered life

Raw sense for the moment.

The power of hand soap

April 30, 2019

A few weeks ago I got a company-wide email inviting me to volunteer across the street at Children’s Mercy for a Mother’s Day card signing campaign for “Mercy Moms” – whose children are patients at the hospital. I immediately blocked my calendar hoping I could make it. When I got to the office today and saw the event on my calendar for this afternoon, a wave of panic came over me. Was I ready to drive into that familiar parking garage with the “friendly” color-coded floors? Could I maintain composure in that lobby, the one I remember walking out so many nights in tears after leaving Layla alone for the night so I could go home, be with Skyler, and get some decent sleep? I hadn’t been back there for maybe 3 years since her follow up visits are at a different location. I see the building from my office window and hear the helicopters transporting critical patients several times a week, but it’s been a safe distance, though not without a shudder and prayer every time I hear the rumble of the helicopter.

Thankfully my work schedule held and I wasn’t able to find an excuse not to go. I circled the familiar garage and found a spot on the Purple Airplane level and made my way through the lobby. I didn’t have to go far before I found the volunteer organizer and was directed to an elevator upstairs, to an area I had only seen maybe once in my time spent there. The volunteers gathered in a meeting room, and a woman told her daughter’s amazing story of beating an aggressive form of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. I sat next to an older couple who’s son was about to graduate high school, but had spent a lot of time at the hospital in his early life. That couple and I both declined the hospital tours that were being offered; we had all seen enough of it with our children.

We were given sheets of paper with printed messages from supporters who had sent messages through the Mothers Day campaign to hand-write onto the cards donated by Hallmark, and were encouraged to write our own personal messages as well. I probably signed at least 30 cards in my time there. Each and every one of them felt personal to me, even if I was printing someone else’s message. I imagined an exhausted and scared mother, spending her Sunday at the hospital by her child’s side. Maybe even having to leave that night and go home or next door to the Ronald McDonald House without her child. I imagined the lonely mother of a newborn, pumping breastmilk behind a curtain in one of the lactation rooms, dreaming of nursing her baby that is currently being sustained with an IV and feeding tube. I imagined the fear, the lack of control, and the feelings of guilt that she can’t help her child.

“You are stronger than you know.”
“You are an amazing mother.”
“You are not alone.”
“Your love makes a difference.”
“You are inspiring.”
“You are loved.”

As I was leaving I stopped in the lobby bathroom before hitting the road for my commute home. While washing my hands, another woman was washing hers and asked me about my volunteer sticker and what we were doing there. I explained and she said “Oh how nice, I hope I receive one of those cards!” I asked what she was there for, then immediately felt super nosy and awkward, and fumbled an apology with “Both my daughters had heart surgery here so it’s near and dear to my heart so I can’t help but wonder what others are going through.” She said her 3-month-old was awaiting cardiac surgery for ASD, VSD, and bicuspid valve (Layla and Skyler both split those defects). She explained how surgery kept getting postponed due to various setbacks with her son’s health, and that Dr O’brien (also our daughters’ surgeon) would be performing the surgery if the day would ever come. I listened and agreed and encouraged her that she and her baby were in good hands, and it’s so hard, but that she is so strong. I didn’t really know what to do but offer the empathy of someone who had been there, tell her how amazing she was, and remind her to get some fresh air and rest for herself. She was headed back to the Ronald McDonald House that evening, so we both made our way to the Purple Airplane parking level and went our separate ways.

A few minutes into my drive home, my nose itched. I reached up to scratch it and the distinct scent of the hospital hand soap I had used hundreds of times during my girls’ stays filled my nose and brain and sent me straight back to those fearful days as we fought for our girls’ lives. I remembered how dry and raw and sore my knuckles were from so much handwashing. I remembered long days of waiting for the next doctor’s report and watching the heart monitors like a hawk, jumping at every beep. I remembered wondering why we had to go through this, and TWICE! I thought of all the mothers who had come and gone, and those who would be receiving the cards we wrote that day, and of the woman I met in the bathroom with such a similar experience and how I was able to offer her encouragement. I then knew the answer to my questions, and I cried tears of joy the rest of the drive home.

I have found myself in a few situations lately where I’ve had to revisit the some of the most heartbreaking experiences in my life, in order to offer comfort to others who are going through similar things. It’s a strange and bittersweet feeling – like I can have true empathy and offer hope from being on the other side of challenges. And it feels like now there is a new reason for the pain and struggles I went through – that I can draw from those to help others. But I’ve also realized through this how far I’ve come. To be able to go back to those dark places and feel with those who are hurting, but not bring the hurt back with me to stay. I would never wish these experiences on anyone, but I am grateful for the personal growth and wisdom I’ve gained. And despite it all, I know I am right where I am meant to be.


That’s anxiety talking

April 24, 2019

“I’m at work and text my husband something random during the day and he doesn’t immediately reply. I know he recently picked up our daughters from Grandma’s and should be home by now. Maybe he’s napping. Or maybe they got in a fatal accident on the way home and I’ve lost them both. My life without them begins to flash before my eyes and I get choked up. But I decide to focus on my work because it probably didn’t happen and everything is fine. He replies a few minutes later and all is normal.”

***

“I’m getting ready for a gathering with friends and trying to decide what to wear. I really just want to be comfortable but not look like I don’t care. I try things on but I feel like I look fat in everything, and not like the body of a person who cares so much about health and wellness. I think my friends will look at me and think “sheesh, she should really be in better shape if she actually practices what she preaches.” And then I think about how I DO practice what I preach and that maybe what I preach is all wrong since I don’t look fit and maybe everything I’m passionate about is a complete joke and I’m wasting my time and energy on a farce and I’m a farce and going to make a fool of myself once I’m found out.”

***

“I’m locked out of my work computer randomly when I try to login one morning. It’s odd since I hadn’t even had unsuccessful login attempts. I call IT and start the unlock process and they ask my manager’s name. I wonder if I’m getting laid off that day and IT accidentally deleted all my credentials too early before HR got through the process. I think about how the heck we would pay our bills and how much I don’t want to try and find another job. But IT swiftly unlocks my computer and I’m back in business.”

***

“I’m laying in bed at night and hear a mysterious, nondescript noise. I wonder if we’ve locked all the doors and closed the garage. I imagine armed robbers entering our home and murdering us in our bed. I wonder if they would go upstairs and get our girls or if they’d be safe on the other side of the house. I wonder how long it would take for our bodies to be discovered. I get up and go check all the doors and go back to sleep.”

***

“I’m running late for an 8:30 meeting with my boss because my three-year-old was acting like a three-year-old and traffic didn’t help either. I’m sure that my boss thinks I’m irresponsible and disrespectful. I arrive at 8:37 and my boss isn’t there. I check my email and at 6:15 am she had sent a meeting reschedule for later that day, so I was never actually late.”

***

“I feel a small fleshy bump under my chin and rub my thumb over it back and forth. Is it possible to have cellulite on your chin? Or is it some form of chin cancer? How long will it take to spread? How many other little cancers do I have growing in my body and how long do I have to live? Could I survive chemo? Would I be strong enough to fight cancer? How could I ever say goodbye to my family if I lost that battle? What if my mom gets cancer? How do children lose their parents to terminal illness? How do parents lose their children to terminal illness or accidents? And now I’m heartbroken and holding back tears for every child and parent who’ve had to say goodbye long before they should’ve had to.”

***

“I write a blog post about anxiety and how it feels to me. I go back and forth trying to decide if I should actually publish it or just treat it as a journal entry for therapy. If I publish it, people will probably think ‘oh she’s crossed the line and shared too much this time. She’s kinda crazy and I don’t think I want to read her stuff anymore. She should be on meds.’ If I don’t publish it, then I’m giving into fear and not being myself. Vulnerability is all the rage right now so if I share it, maybe I’ll connect with others who feel this way too and we can all laugh with each other and comfort each other and not feel so alone. But no one is this crazy and if they are they are probably on meds and managing it so that makes me a stubborn hippie and people will think I’ve taken this holistic wellness stuff too far if I still feel this way and won’t take meds. Clearly I don’t know what I’m talking about and should not be sharing wellness crap! But what if I did get on meds and they made me suicidal or they did the opposite and numbed all feelings whatsoever?”

These are all real thoughts of mine, all of them on repeat in some shape or form throughout my days. I once heard that it’s good to share your irrational fears with others because saying it helps it sound ridiculous and helps take the power of the fear away. And I can laugh about it because I’m just so used to thinking like this. It’s my norm. But the patterns remain and I catch myself in these thought patterns and sometimes I get annoyed and angry and exhausted. I sometimes think I am broken, but I also know there is a biological/neurological mechanism to why this happens and I am still a work in progress.

Anxiety is the brain and body stuck in or easily triggered into fight or flight, caused by trauma, stress, or other perceived threats. When I get anxious or find myself in these fearful thought patterns, I’ve learned to check myself and evaluate what might have gotten me here. Sometimes I just acknowledge the past events that may have impacted my nervous system more permanently. Sometimes there is a true underlying worry that I’ve been avoiding and need to deal with, and other times it happens when I’ve had too much sugar or caffeine. I also get this way when I haven’t been active enough to sweat out the nervous energy, and the day after I’ve had alcohol. And oddly, it’s often correlated with my monthly cycle. There are so many triggers for me, many of which I could control, but I definitely don’t have it all under control.

I have learned through therapy, meditation, and studying the effects of stress and trauma that I am not my thoughts. I can recognize them, acknowledge them, breathe through them, but not judge myself or my thoughts. I thank my body for trying to protect me, and remind it that I am okay. I also know that my mind is creative and analytical and intelligent, and those qualities are my strengths, but they come with their downside, which leads me easily into anxiety. That’s where I find peace though, knowing that there is a purpose for my discomfort.

I should caveat that I am fully functioning mentally and my anxiety does not keep me from functioning in the world. This is also one reason why I haven’t yet taken medication. I completely support anyone that needs medication to help with normal function. I have sought other therapies and learned a lot about anxiety and myself, but if it ever became debilitating or dangerous, I would absolutely take medication. However my hope is that by working with it instead of against it, anxiety can find an appropriate place in my life rather than taking over.

The work is not done; maybe I will always live with this. But there are more tools and therapies and books to read and the more I learn, the more I love myself, so I am hopeful! In the meantime, I share my journey – the ups and downs, in hopes of making connections, learning and teaching, so the fear cannot control me. And I hope others can learn to sit with their anxious feelings and learn from them rather than run from them. Let them be an opportunity to listen to your body to find the balance and healing it needs, and maybe discover your strengths in the midst of it all.

Fat: Healthy Plant-based Sources – Part II

April 15, 2019

Disclaimer: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, meaning I will make a commission off your purchase, at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products I believe in. If you purchase through one of these links, I truly thank you for your support!

Fat makes you fat. Eat fat, lose fat. Fat causes heart attacks. Fat is Fuel. Any of these sound familiar? I’m not here to defend or criticize any of these statements. To sum up Part I, we need fat, we are built from fat, and fat makes veggies delicious! And we all know we should eat more veggies! So I’m going to share some of the best ways to incorporate healthy plant-based fats into your lifestyle. I’m not going into the proper amount of fat.  It’s another topic for another day that has a lot more if’s, and’s or but’s. This is purely about ways to incorporate dietary fat from plant sources for sustainable, delicious living that supports a healthy lifestyle.

Roasted or Sauteed Veggies

roasted broccoli and tilapia

A little blackened makes the best roasted broccoli!

How many of you thought the only way to eat veggies is to steam or boil them so they remain low in calories and “healthy?” I thought that for a long time, which meant I ate very few veggies because I just couldn’t stomach them. I believe eating should be enjoyable and not feel like punishment, so once I discovered you can use fat to cook veggies, I was hooked! It’s a toss up for me if I like sauteed or roasted veggies better, so I’ll share how we do both. For a veggie sautee, heat a skillet on medium. Once the pan is hot, add 2 – 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, or coconut oil, depending on your flavor preference (coconut oil has a distinct flavor, which I prefer with Asian-inspired dishes like stir-fries). Throw in your chopped veggies, and toss to coat with oil, stirring occasionally to cook evenly and prevent sticking. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, or drizzle citrus juice, cooking vinegar, or soy sauce/coconut aminos for a dash of flavor. We frequently saute broccoli, brussels sprouts, green beans, potatoes, onions, mushrooms, cabbage, kale, and spinach.

Roasting veggies produces a very similar flavor and texture as sauteing, but it’s obviously easier. I prefer to roast veggies if I already have a lot of other things to cook on the stovetop. I like to roast at around 400 to get veggies nice and crispy on the edges, so start that oven up and line a sheet pan with foil. Put your chopped veggies in a bowl and drizzle with a few tablespoons of olive or avocado oil, and toss with a spoon so the oil can coat the veggies. Spread the veggies evenly on the sheet pan – the more space between veggies the more the edges can crisp. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, or other seasonings that you like, then pop in the oven. Roasting time will vary depending on the veggies and size of your chop. Denser, starchier veggies like potatoes tend to take longer.

Salad Dressing

salad with hemp hearts and avocado

Salad with healthy fats: hemp hearts and avocado

I know eating boring, low-fat salads have been a stereotypical girl-on-a-diet thing, but this girl here is breaking the stereotype. I actually love a big, hearty salad, and outside of having several colorful, nutrient dense toppings for the salad, a good homemade dressing can really bring it to life. Salad dressing doesn’t have to be complicated, either. The basics of a vinaigrette are 3 parts oil (extra virgin olive or avocado oil) to  1 part vinegar or other acidic ingredient like fresh squeezed citrus. Just those two ingredients shaken or emulsified with an immersion blender make a simple, healthy salad dressing, but you can liven things up with the addition of other ingredients, such as minced garlic, fresh herbs, berries, honey, mustard, or various combinations of the above. Don’t forget salt and pepper. My very favorite dressing is a home made, dairy-free ranch made with healthy, plant-based fats. Homemade salad dressing can be mixed up in a large batch and stored in a jar in the fridge for 1 – 2 weeks.

Nuts and seeds

You know, nuts and seeds have come a long way. They used to be considered for snacking (think roasted, salted, chocolate-covered) or baking toppings, but in the last several years as people have been looking for gluten free and dairy free options, several nuts have risen to the occasion. Almond flour has become a popular flour for baking cookies and breads (my favorite healthy chocolate chip cookies are almond flour based!). You can get nearly any kind of nut butter, like cashew, almond, ,and sunflower seed butters, and some companies make blends of multiple nuts! I love to rotate these in between peanut butter to switch up flavors and nutrient profile. I’ve recently begun experimenting with chia seeds and hemp seeds. I soak chia seeds for at least an hour, if not overnight, in a nut milk, and then add to my smoothies. In addition to fat, they also have a ton of fiber and protein, so they are kind of a super food. Hemp hearts make a great addition to sprinkle on anything that you want to add a little crunch; salads, avocados, even a savory stir fry. Finally, there are some great new dairy alternatives like almond or cashew yogurts and I’ve tried some cashew-based cheeses that make a pretty decent substitute! So as long as you tolerates nuts, there are a ton of ways you can use them as a healthy fat source in your lifestyle!

Fruit

Fruit? Yeah, I said fruit. But really I’m mostly talking about the most amazing and perfect fruit ever, the AVOCADO! Avocados are a fruit, but are primarily fat and fiber. They have that amazing umami flavor and creaminess that goes with almost any dish. And if you need a snack to get you by till dinner, slice open an avocado and eat it with a spoon! They are ridiculously filling and full of so many beneficial nutrients in addition to the fat and fiber: B vitamins, as well as C, E, K, potassium and magnesium. Don’t let me forget the other fatty fruit, coconut! Coconut flavor can be a bit divisive, but if you like coconut, it’s a lovely addition to your fat list! Unsweetened coconut flakes can be used in baking and as a nice crust for seafood and chicken. The oil is perfect for frying and various desserts. And if you can find a jar of coconut butter, try to keep from eating the entire thing with a spoon! It’s also high in fiber and might cause some digestive distress if you overdo it, which is easy to do! Finally, coconuts also have an amazingly creamy milk (the kind that comes in a can, usually found in the Asian food section at the grocery store). This milk makes a great coffee creamer substitute, delicious, creamy smoothies, and is great as a creamy base for soups and gravies.

While it isn’t an exhaustive list, the above examples of plant-based fats are the main things I use to incorporate healthy fats from a variety of sources and flavors. What I haven’t yet covered are animal fats, which can still be part of a healthy diet. So stay tuned for Part 3 when I cover how animal fats aren’t terrible for you and how to incorporate them in a healthy way.

In the meantime, tell me in the comments below what your favorite healthy fat is? Yummmmm…I love fats!

Reasons I suck as a mom lately

April 6, 2019

The other night I got home and was having a pleasant conversation with Ronnie while he was preparing dinner and Skyler interjected “Yay! You’re in a good mood!” and I immediately felt embarrassed and ashamed that it was such a rarity lately that she was excited enough to call it out. To hammer the nail in further, she made a similar comment again a few nights later, and it just hit me how I clearly haven’t been keeping it together around here!

I thought I had gotten to a decent place this year after spending January and February really dialed into my nutrition, cutting back on caffeine and alcohol, and following my naturopath’s protocols pretty darn closely. But between some craziness at work and our recent family tragedy, it wasn’t long before I spiraled downward. It hasn’t been a complete disaster – my “reckless” behavior looks like a bag of chips fried in avocado oil with homemade dairy-free ranch dressing and a bottle of wine. That was probably my low point. Or maybe it was Taco Bell…but that’s neither here nor there. In reality those were one off events and I’ve still kept to at least an 80/20 rule with my own nutrition, exercising consistently and sleeping well.

But despite the steps I’ve taken to not completely wreck myself, my mental health has really taken a hit from the stress and I’ve been really down on myself in the mothering department, among others. Its easy for me to get into a rut of self doubt as soon as I get stressed or hit with a challenge.

Skyler’s been mentioning wanting new shoes, and when Ronnie took her last week, she had grown 3 shoe sizes! She also mentioned her glasses needed adjusted so we stopped by the eye doctor to get them fixed and the tech said the frames were completely broken and she ordered new ones! How did I not know these things?

She’s been begging to take gymnastics and I’ve been slacking on signing her up for a couple reasons. Money has felt tight for awhile. But when I look at our budget and expenses, we’ve got no problem paying the bills. For some reason we are just frittering away all our “extra” on little dumb stuff that I can’t even quantify. On paper we can afford gymnastics with plenty to spare. So I feel like a selfish jerk that we haven’t made that a reality for her. She’s so amazing though; she watches YouTube videos and teaches herself. She practices and stretches diligently and can do so many different and difficult tumbling moves. It’s shameful that she’s not being coached professionally!

The other reason I haven’t signed her up is because frankly, my days are so long as it is and I just want to come home from work, eat and relax with the family and get to bed at a decent hour. I just can’t do evenings of running around after work from activity to activity. I want to throw up thinking about that added stress! But then I realized I could go and bring my laptop and use that time while she’s there to actually write in this blog for one uninterrupted hour that isn’t past my bedtime, so now I’ve talked myself into signing her up. But then I feel guilty that it took a selfish reason for me to finally get on board.

When it comes to Layla, I’m a big time slacker because I can get away with more. Most days I drop Layla off at daycare and realize I haven’t brushed her hair or washed her face. I look at the other little girls with cute barrettes and pigtails and feel ashamed. Then again, Layla doesn’t care, the other kids don’t care, so why should I? She has the rest of her life to worry about how she looks, so why start now?

Since she was a baby, she’s been attached to me much more than Skyler was. She follows me around every room of the house, even the bathroom if I don’t swiftly lock the door behind me. Even then, she’ll pound on the door until I come out. If I sit down on the couch she’s immediately in my lap, and she doesn’t always sit still and snuggle. There’s a lot of wiggling and goofing around, with bony elbows and knees digging into my ribs as she wollers around. I try to soak it up for a few minutes and enjoy it since I know it won’t last forever, but I can only take so much! I’m an independent person so it really stresses me to never have any alone time or space. I feel guilty every time I tell her to sit next to me rather than on me, or go play in another room so I can do the laundry without questions and comments from the peanut gallery about every single item I’m sorting and folding.

I could go on and on and list a hundred things I am not doing and should be, or things I don’t do “right.” Don’t ask me how often I clean the house or make my bed. Don’t ask me how often anyone’s socks match. Don’t ask me how often my face is buried in my phone while nodding and carrying on a “conversation” with my kids. If I answered all that and shared my other weaknesses, my loved ones reading this might disown me, and it’s possible child services could get called. All I know is these girls are alive and happy and healthy, so I’m just thankful we aren’t in a worse situation!

Tell me, mamas, what are the ways you are feeling incompetent as a mom lately? Or maybe share some encouragement on something you are proud of? Comment below!

Fat: the key to your health and delicious vegetables – Part I

March 28, 2019

Disclaimer: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, meaning I will make a commission off your purchase, at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products I believe in. If you purchase through one of these links, I truly thank you for your support!

It might be that I’ve been geeking out on nutrition for long enough, or maybe it’s the popularity of the ketogenic diet, but it seems to me like dietary fat is cool again. So, fat is phat? This might also just be the perspective in my little echo chamber, so I wanted to take some time to talk about it here because either way, there’s a lot of goodness going on with the slimy, squishy stuff.

Why fat is good for you

From a really high level, fat is one of three macronutrients (the others being carbohydrates and protein). Our bodies need varying amounts of all three to survive and function optimally. Fats make up our cell walls, and surround and protect vital organs. They are also the building blocks of hormones. Did you know that cholesterol (a type of fat) is actually something the body makes to repair damaged tissues? Additionally, some essential vitamins (A, D, E and K), are only fat soluble, so there must be dietary fat present in order for our bodies to absorb them. For survival, fat is clearly non-negotiable!

One of my favorite (and the most practical) benefits of dietary fat is that it just tastes so good! It’s cravable and satiating, so it’s important to have in our meals so we can be full and satisfied and actually stop eating. Meals without enough fat can leave you feeling hungry, which might cause you to overeat something that isn’t nutritious! Additionally, fats are a “slow-burning” form of energy. This means that when you eat meals with enough fat, you can slow the metabolism of carbohydrates, which will help provide you longer lasting energy and help avoid the sugar crash that can come with lowfat/high carb intake. Properly balanced meals with healthy fat portions can help you go longer between meals.

Healthy fats for cooking

Cooking with fats has opened a whole world of vegetables to me that I never would have incorporated into my diet regularly if steamed or boiled. Until my husband sauteed broccoli in garlic and olive oil and the little “leaves” got all crispy and dark, I wanted nothing to do with broccoli and just choked it down on occasion when I felt I owed it to my body to pay for some previous dietary sin. But now I crave broccoli cooked like that and it’s a treat rather than a punishment!

It is important to use discernment with which fats you use regularly, as cooking fats are not all equal in the eyes of health. Vegetable oils like corn, soy, and canola can easily go rancid and tend to promote inflammation in the body. Unfortunately these are the cheapest oils and used most often in the food industry. Other plant-based oils like olive and coconut are moderately priced, easy to find, and don’t cause inflammation. Walmart, Aldi, Trader Joe’s, Target, and Costco all carry organic coconut and olive oils for decent prices. Avocado oil is also tasty to cook with, but can be harder to find and more expensive. Seed oils such as sesame and sunflower can be used and have unique flavors, but are fairly unstable so should be protected from light and heat and not used in high heat cooking.

Animal fats get a bad rap in the conventional health world, but saturated fats from free range, grass-fed beef and pastured pork are extremely stable, flavorful, and great for high-heat cooking that might cause the plant-based oils to oxidize and become rancid. And they are inexpensive in that they can often be rendered from meats you are already cooking. You can also purchase high quality beef tallow and lard for cooking from local farmers at the markets, or you can order on Amazon.

The key with cooking fats is variety, both to keep the flavor profile interesting so you don’t tire of something, but also to balance the fatty acid profiles you are getting. Different fat sources offer different risks and benefits, so maintaining a variety is key for your body to get all the nutritional benefits fat has to offer, while still enjoying life and making other healthy foods more delicious!

Stay tuned for Part II, where I’ll share some simple, healthy ways to incorporate healthy fats into your meals.


The price we pay for love

March 16, 2019

It’s been over a week since we said goodbye to our puppies in an unexpectedly tragic situation. Our home feels empty and eerily quiet and calm. We have never not had at least one dog in our 13 years as a family, and Ronnie and I both had dogs growing up and for the majority of our lives before we were together. We are animal people, so this sudden absence of them on our couch that smells like them is ripping our hearts out.

There have been lots of tears and hugs and holding each other. Lots of knowing looks when Layla says something nonchalant about her silly dogs because she doesn’t really understand what happened. And there’s been bickering over dumb stuff because we are all hurting and struggling throughout our days and patience is wearing thin. Though just a certain part of our life has changed dramatically, it feels like the whole thing is going wrong. Furthermore, Ronnie and I grieve very differently, which creates some friction when he’s try to be productive and I want to curl up in the corner, ignore everyone and everything, and sleep till it doesn’t hurt anymore.

I’ve thought a lot about life and heartbreak through this, as I often feel we’ve had more than our fair share of trials and tragedies. Some would say that is God testing us, and showing us how strong we are and that we can learn and grow in faith through this. Some would say that life is suffering, and it just looks different for different people but we all suffer. But as I analyze all that we have weathered together, I have determined that our life is the result of choices we have made to love and follow our dreams.

So much of our pain could have been avoided had we never got married, never had children or pets. We could’ve stayed single and emotionally safe, living our own lives selfishly and autonomously. We wouldn’t have watched two babies nearly die from heart problems , and wouldn’t have felt the strain on marriage that parenting creates. Ronnie didn’t have to take risks to follow his dream and open his own business; he could’ve stayed in the big box fitness world where he was protected by corporate lawyers and administrators that took care of the paperwork and financials, never feeling the pain and stress of a lawsuit directed his way. And we didn’t have to have pets – they are a lot of work and sometimes a total pain in the butt. We’ve said tearful goodbyes to 4 beloved dogs and one kitty in the last 4 years, but no one made us choose them or bring them into our family and onto our couch. Life would’ve been a lot cleaner and less stinky without them.

Choosing love and passion comes with risk and the cost of pain. But as deep as the pain runs, so does the joy flow in equal and opposite directions. It’s just Newton’s 3rd Law of Motion, I guess. As tempting as it is to never again feel the heartbreak of losing loved ones or failing at a new endeavor, that’s just not the life I want to live. We are risk takers, thrill seekers, and love warriors. I hope we will continue to suffer and grow through the inevitable pain this life will bring, savoring the joy and beautiful moments we earn along the way.

Grief is, after all, the price we pay for love.

–Queen Elizabeth II

What happened when I went vegan for a week

March 14, 2019

Never in a million years did I think I’d go vegan. While I love vegetables and all the nutrition that comes with them, I also believe that animal protein and some animal fats are a highly nutritious and bioavailable form of nutrients for many people. Furthermore, I believe in bioindividuality, in that everyone is different due to their genetics, lifestyle and environment. While a vegan lifestyle may help one person thrive, it may not be ideal for another. So when my naturopathic doctor recommended I do a liver cleanse that included one week eating completely vegan, I welcomed it as a learning opportunity.

My week as a vegan had some additional restrictions and rules as part of the liver cleanse. In addition to animal products, I had to avoid soy, wheat/gluten, corn, peanuts, tomatoes, grapefruit, caffeine and alcohol, so I couldn’t just swap my meat out for soy-based meat alternatives like tofu, tempeh, or faux chicken. Furthermore, since I am genetically more prone to Type II Diabetes, I tend to keep my carbohydrates pretty low so I can maintain healthy blood sugar levels. This presented a unique challenge for me, since most soy-free vegan protein sources tend to also have high carbohydrate content. Some of this was managed with a supplemental plant-based protein shake as part of the cleanse protocol, so I wasn’t 100% dependent on my meals for protein.

I spent a couple weeks leading up to this week researching vegan recipes that I thought looked delicious or provided a unique spin on foods that would keep things interesting for me. I ended up incorporating a few different legumes: black beans, lentils, and chickpeas, which I don’t normally eat a lot of because they make me bloated and gassy, which is no fun for anyone! I also used quinoa and a lot of mushrooms, especially portobellos, which became a favorite for me! Finally, I got a bag of hemp hearts to sprinkle on salads, which are high in protein and fat.

My breakfasts were either a smoothie using the plant-based protein powder supplement with almond or coconut milk, almond yogurt, cashew butter and chia seeds, or I made overnight oatmeal with chia seeds and some blueberries or banana slices. This was not a big change for me, as I often do smoothies for breakfast if I’m not eating leftovers.

I ate salads with mushrooms, cashews, and chickpeas sprinkled with hemp hearts for lunch, or leftovers from whatever vegan dinner I had the night before. Avocados were key to a satisfying salad – they provided the umami flavor I’m used to from meat (as did the sauteed or grilled mushrooms) and helped fill me up with the fat content.

portobello mushroom salad

Dinners included cauliflower-based “alfredo” over zucchini noodles, sweet potato lentil curry, portobello “burger,” vegetable stir-fry with quinoa, some random combinations of veggies and leftovers with sauteed mushrooms and pan-fried spicy chickpeas.

vegan stirfry with mushrooms and broccoli

I enjoyed most of what I ate and was able to get full most meals, but definitely felt something lacking. The first couple days I had a constant headache. I had quit caffeine a week prior to this and had not had a headache so I knew it wasn’t due to that. I also had numerous twitches and some charlie horse muscle cramps, so I know the change impacted my mineral and electrolyte balance. I made sure to salt my food generously, which seemed to help. The bloating and gas was serious, folks! I was so uncomfortable after almost every meal. I think the combination of bananas, grains and beans was too much for my particular intestinal ecosystem. I don’t know if it would have improved with more time, but it’s not something I really feel like experimenting with anytime soon! Finally, I was so darn tired. I felt like all I wanted to do was sleep.

vegan black bean brownies
These vegan black bean brownies were legit though! Will definitely make again!

The worst symptom of all was abnormally high irritability. I felt angry at everyone all the time, and this week did not coincide with my usual PMS week where irritability can be a common symptom. I do believe this was actually a result of the high dose of B-vitamins I was getting through the shake supplement, as I have learned from previous experiences taking high dose B vitamins and through digging deeper into my 23 and Me genetic data that I have a couple genetic mutations that combine to cause issues with the assimilation of B vitamins, even from the more bioavailable methylated form. As soon as I made that connection, I discontinued the shake and went back to my regular multivitamin that has a moderate amount of B vitamins that I tolerate just fine. That helped tremendously with the irritability, but it was hard to ensure I had enough protein. There were only a couple days left of this vegan phase so I just rode it out and didn’t do any intense exercise. I also added back some collagen (not vegan) to my morning tea, and threw in the towel on the last day with some chicken bone broth and a piece of tilapia at dinner. I was over it and just ready to get back to an omnivorous base of nutrients!

One thing that somewhat surprised me was that I did not lose a single pound during my week as a vegan. I lost maybe two pounds the week prior, which allowed chicken and fish, and I’ve since lost another couple pounds the week after with chicken and fish. Part of the point of this liver cleanse was to allow my liver to clean out and reset, since the liver is so crucial in fat metabolism and hormone balance. I suspect that in my case, due to my tendency toward blood sugar issues, that the vegan week was too high in carbs and low in protein to provide the right macronutrient ratio for my metabolism. I wish I would’ve thought to monitor my blood sugar with my glucose meter after meals that week, but it just didn’t occur to me and I was already a bit overwhelmed!

Other than how I felt physically, I want to address the emotional aspect of eating or not eating meat as it relates to ethics and animal welfare. I have thought a lot about this over the years and especially during my vegan week. I definitely don’t love the idea of killing another living thing in order to eat. But I also know we are the only species of meat-eaters that gives that a second thought. I believe we are part of a greater ecosystem and that, as cheesy as it sounds, in the whole circle of life we all feed each other in life and in death. When we die and are buried, our bodies feed the microorganisms that aid in the decomposition process, and then we become food for the plants and grasses that grow above us. These plants in turn feed animals and humans and thus we are all connected in this natural energy exchange.

I haven’t yet wrapped my brain around why it’s acceptable to eat some animals and not others. We consider pets to have souls and are beloved members of our family, but what about cows and pigs? I know that for now, I try to purchase most of our beef from places where cattle are pastured and raised in a natural environment where they are free to roam until their final day. We are on a budget so I don’t always buy all of our meat from the best sources, and for now I choose to accept that and not beat myself up for it. And since Ronnie has taken up bow hunting, I am much more comfortable eating the wild game he brings home, knowing those animals lived a life of freedom. But it is something I give a lot of thought to, and I’ve learned from my vegan week that I can probably thrive with less meat than I did previously, so I feel good about moving forward with an even greater plant-based diet than before.

All in all, it’s not something I plan to try again anytime soon, but I’m really proud of myself for doing it and allowing myself to learn whatever came out of it. And I have so much respect for vegans, as I know that it is not an easy way to live and takes a lot of strategy and preparation to do it in a healthful way. Oreos might technically be vegan but that is no way to go about it and actually feel good! I think it’s important for people to break out of their comfort zones in any part of life and try new ways of being, whether that be nutrition or lifestyle, in order to learn more about themselves and gain empathy for others. Without personal growth, it’s too easy to become stagnant and narrow-minded in the way we approach the world.

Have you ever gone vegan or vegetarian for a period of time or would you consider it? If so, what did you learn? I would love to hear from you in the comments.