Personal Growth

This category contains 22 posts

Choose Hope (a nearly incoherent rambling)

"Once you choose hope, anything's possibl...

“Once you choose hope, anything’s possible.” ~ Christopher Reeve (Photo credit: Abby Lanes)

We are restrained by our responsibilities on a daily basis. Work. Chores. There seems to be a never-ending list of things that need to be done. There is never enough time and, often, there is a lack of patience. At the height of my frustration, at my wit’s end last year, buried under school work and the pressure of being everything to everyone while still being a good mom, my son’s father pointed out that I never seemed to be in a good mood. I came home from work grumpy, anxious to tackle my homework, and, often times, wouldn’t even have a smile for the little boy so excited to see me.

I was taking life too seriously. You know the old joke “don’t take life too seriously, no one gets out of it alive”? It has rung through my head for months now. It was a turning point in my life, this realization that I make time for all of the “responsibilities” in my life but not for the things I really needed for myself. I needed time with my son. I needed time with my son’s father. I needed time with my friends. And I needed time with myself.  

If we are lucky enough to be touched by a moment that makes us appreciate life more it is important not to let it pass us by. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve experienced a number of life changing moments the last few years. The more I experience, the more I appreciate what I have in my life. Not things. People. Moments.

Our world seems so much scarier than the world I grew up in. News outlets would have you convinced that we’re on the brink of the end. That there is nothing good left to come. I let all of this pass through me and refuse to let it touch me as much as possible. I filter everything I hear and see through a lens of “does this promote happy in my life?”. Anything that fails to meet the standard is dropped like a hot potato.

We struggle. I struggle to balance work, school, and home. My son’s father struggles with pursuing his passion and the work he was born to do with the need to contribute to the household finances. I support him in following his dream and, while it is admittedly rough sometimes, I would much rather he follow his dream than have to watch him wilt and wither in a job he hates so that we could have more money. Money, after all, is not my main concern in life. The world tells me it should be and I tell the world to stuff it where the sun don’t shine. Sure, I complain occasionally about my job. But I appreciate that I have a job that can enable our family to live comfortably while he pursues his dreams and I finish school. Our son wants for nothing. He is a happy, vibrant child who delights in the world around him.

He doesn’t care about money. While it is impossible to, as an adult, not care about money at all, I’ve adopted his belief that it certainly isn’t a majorly important factor in our lives. He moves forward, full steam ahead, and all he cares about is that Mommy or Daddy is there to kiss his boo-boo when he trips over his own feet or runs into a shoe display at a sports store (yes, he moves THAT full steam ahead).

He cares that Daddy is home with him while Mommy is at work and vice versa. He cares that we are happy. He cares that we are together.

As his parents, we care that he be happy and that we make life as fulfilling for him as possible. It can’t always be perfect, obviously, but we try to take it in stride. We have eating issues, potty training issues, sleep issues, but we are a happy family. I see no reason to disrupt that or to allow my son’s father to disrupt it by doubting the path he’s chosen career-wise. It’s one thing to change your mind, it’s another thing to allow a rough patch to change it for you.

What does any of this have to do with anything?

Probably nothing… but as I said, when you have a moment that changes your perspective in life, you need to pay attention to it. Today I had another moment that reaffirmed my Live, Laugh, Love mind set. Life is here to live and borrowing trouble gets us nowhere. Trouble will find you when it needs to, until then, leave it be.

I’ve read a lot of blogs the last few years. Some were funny. Some were sweet. Some were dumb as hell and some were witty. None of them managed to make me laugh, make me feel connected to a child I never knew, or make me cry the way this one did.

http://www.chicagonow.com/mary-tyler-mom/2011/08/gold-is-the-new-pink/

I stumbled across this blog quite by accident. I read the synopsis of Donna’s Cancer Story and wondered if I should even read it. I don’t like to set myself up for tears if I can avoid it but in that moment of hesitation I thought “if that child and her family could live it… if her mother had the strength to blog about it… I can have the fortitude to read it. To absorb it.” In other words, I could have the ability to let it touch me.

The last post in Donna’s story requests that her story be shared. So I am going to do just that.

But first I want to remind my readers, as surprising as it is that I have readers, that you only get this one life. You get to choose. You get to choose between enjoying your life and mourning it. You get to choose to be supportive of your family or negative about it because it impacts you. You get to choose to love and live and dream. You get to choose whether or not you want to be chained by your responsibilities or freed by them.

 I choose to allow my “struggles” to be minor bumps in the ride, not derailments. I choose to support those that I love. I choose to be happy with my choice to support them, even if it means I have a few “bad” days. I choose to love with all my heart, to hand out extra chances, to always have a smile for the little boy so happy to see me, and to never let a day pass without counting my blessings. I choose to honor those that are in my life as well as those who have passed. I choose to acknowledge that there is always someone out there who is having a harder time than I am. I choose to look with open eyes at the world around me and I choose to see the beauty instead of focusing on the ugliness.

I hope, my dear readers, that Donna’s story will help you gain the perspective to Choose Hope, Live until you die, and see the good in your own life. Focus on the good, dear readers, and the bad truly won’t feel so painful. Do good things for good reason, no reason, or any reason at all.

Be happy and try to make those around you happy. Make time for friends, family, and yourself; because life is more about whom we have around us than what we have around us.

I apologize if this post is more disorganized than usual… tears tend to scatter my brain just a wee bit. I supposed I could have posted just about being happy that my child is healthy. That I appreciate his tantrums more because he is able to have them. But I was already happy about all of that. I am already appreciative of how easy we have it with our son, even when he is being difficult. Donna’s story touched me more deeply than just hugging my child tighter. I have an amazing family. I have a son who is beautiful and bright. I have my son’s father, who is equally beautiful and bright. I have parents and sisters and nieces and nephews and friends whom would support me no matter what I did.

We all get lost in our own struggles from time to time. Because they are our struggles, they will never be trivial to us. We feel the struggle, the pressure, the anxiety, while we are living it. It is real and tangible to us. I would never use someone else’s struggle to minimize or negate a struggle I or someone else was feeling. But, my dears, perspective is the key word for many of my posts. You can learn from the struggles of others. You can gain perspective into your own pressure and anxiety.

I learned from this family’s experiences. I learned that relationships can endure, families can survive the unimaginable, and we can choose hope. You can learn to accept your struggle while it is occurring, is lessened or magnified by the perspective you choose to view it with. It is impacted by the attitude you approach it with and the outlook you apply to it.

In the end, when all is said and done, I hope that I have the ability to say that I approached the majority of my difficult experiences with a positive outlook and a sunny perspective. I hope that all of you can as well.

I hope. And that hope will not end because of a rough patch. That’s about all I can say. I hope that this rambling post did Donna justice in the way it was shared, but I fear that there are no words from me that could ever quite achieve such a lofty goal… and I am humbled in that knowledge.

 

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Longing for the days when school was my only “job”.

Three more days of glorious freedom. It’s such a short time to accomplish all of the left over items that got moved to the back burner the last few months. There’s furniture to be moved, organization to be done, and a desk that somehow got completely buried in paperwork to dig out before classes resume next Monday. It’s going to be a rough semester, I can tell already, and all I can really do is breathe slowly and hope that all turns out well.

Going back to school as an adult is difficult enough to make me really wish I’d done it when I was young and didn’t have to worry about things like electric bills, car payments, and retirement plan contributions. I long for carefree days and nights of getting rowdy with my friends. At 22 you feel you have the world on a string, studying can be reserved for last minute cram sessions and nothing seems to be more important than enjoying life. Education is important, sure, but aren’t we here to live?

I’ll admit a minor twinge of nearly-middle-age jealousy when I hear tales of young adults in school and partying on campus. In your thirties your outlook on school is completely different (or at least it should be) and you’re trying to balance a job, a home, and a family while juggling your school work. When I hear a “normal” aged college student gripe about having too much to do while living in campus housing and NOT holding down a job as well I have to refrain from smacking that person upside the head. At the same time I want to congratulate them for doing the smart thing and getting school out of the way before the real world can intrude.

I can honestly say I appreciate school more at my age… everything but Algebra. Honestly? When was the last time anyone factored a polynomial in their day to day life. How could that possibly help me in real life? But, I digress. I am a student. I’m a student in name, registered to an institution of higher learning, and I am a student of the world. I soak up information from everything that surrounds me and attempt to navigate a complicated world with the knowledge I’ve gained.

My interests are as diverse as the day is long and, I fear, that I’ll never decide what I want to be when I “Grow up”; except maybe young again. I’ve settled on Business Management again for now, simply because it’s a field I’m already experience in and it’s the one degree that won’t eat up too much of my real life time. Changing majors would require a level of dedication and time commitment that I’m just not willing to make right now.

I’ve never believed that a person’s job has to be something that they absolutely love. Sure, it should be something you don’t loathe, but it doesn’t have to be a perfect match either. I’m of the solid mindset that your job is your gateway to enjoying and appreciating your real life more. It makes the money that pays for you to be able to pursue your passion through hobbies and leisure activities. I would never want to take something I love and turn it into work.  That’s just a personal opinion and I know it’s one that’s not shared by many.

I don’t regret my choice of major – it’s something I’m good at and there are opportunities in my future for it to challenge me, which I feel is very important. For now my only regret is not getting the education out of the way when I might have had the ability to enjoy it more. Or at least not take it quite as seriously as I do now. Oh, but sometimes I long for the days when going to school was my job and main responsibility. Here’s the life lesson kids: Stay in School – because it only gets more difficult to stick with it as you get older. Oh, and try to pick a major that doesn’t suck but at the same time don’t let your choice of career path be your end all-be all.

It Can Always Be Worse – A lesson in perspective.

We’ve all heard the phrase “it can always be worse”. I don’t feel, however, that as Americans we really think about how privileged we really are. Every day I hear people who are deeply, deeply unhappy with what they can’t have. Very few people seem to take the time to be thankful for what they do have. One of my personal development epiphanies occurred in my teens. It was the realization that Americans are not alone in the world, despite the fact that we use up more than our fair share of the world’s resources.

That realization came with a deeper knowledge of how others in the world live and how everything in this life truly boils down to a matter of perspective. We complain (myself included) about the high price of groceries while there are millions of people in this world who lack access to balance nutrition. Our supermarkets would likely astound them. And what do we do with this abundance of food? We overeat. We are now the most obese country on the planet.

We buy bottled water despite having one of the most advanced water treatment and delivery systems in the world. We have access to fresh water every minute of every day. Turn on the faucet and there it is. No trekking to a river that people bathe and pollute with waste to obtain drinking water.

We drive everywhere. Walking is now relegated to “exercise”. Ditto for Biking. For the majority of us, walking or biking is a luxury of time as opposed to an effective means of transportation.

Arguments about our health care system aside, as imbalanced as access may be, we all have access to at least emergency care. If we are in an accident or injured we can be assured that, even if we go bankrupt from the emergency room bill, there’s a good chance we’ll survive. Because of our access to food and clean water something as simple as a cut on our foot isn’t likely to kill us. For millions of people an infected cut is a serious illness. Here we can wash it in clean water, slather on some antibacterial ointment and put a bandage on it. We have easy access to basic medical supplies.

Whether you’re living in a mansion, a studio apartment, your parent’s basement, or something in between, you have a roof over your head. Access to quality shelter is something I see people take for granted every day. Their bathroom is ugly. Their back yard isn’t big enough. They don’t have enough closet space or their kids have to share a bedroom. Do us all a favor and learn to tell yourself “I don’t like my bathroom, but I’m thankful I have one!”.

The other day I was frustrated by a slow draining bathroom sink. A bottle of Drano later and I was thankful to have a sink that actually drains again. Then I thought, “Hell, I should be thankful to have a sink. And plumbing… and running water… and a home to contain it all.” And I was.

Money is a big complaint I hear all the time. It used to be something I complained about. There never seems to be enough money. I learned something though. You can’t take it with you. You can’t take anything you buy with you, really. Yes, money provides for the roof over our heads, the running water in our sinks, and the food in our bellies. Beyond the basic necessities, everything else is gravy. You have a computer, a cell phone, an iPad, a playstation, a tv… the list goes on and on. Check out http://bonsaimovie.com/ or google microfinance loans.

The most surprising aspect of these loans is how little money people are asking for to buy seeds, or a sewing machine, or fix the roof on their homes. Many of the ones in the Bonsai People documentary are less than I pay for my monthly cell phone bill.

If you need perspective from a cuter standpoint; check out the Babies documentary. Not only is it beautifully done, but it pulls you in. You see that babies are babies the world over. They are not born to hate. They aren’t born to be greedy about material things. They don’t use material objects or money to feel better about themselves. We are born happy and loving and curious. It is only through time and experience that our priorities shift.

If you watch, make sure you watch it a second time with a more critical eye. Compare and contrast how the babies live and grow up. It might not dawn on you that there are a few scenes where how the babies are taken care of would be persecuted here in the states. But, the perspective through which you watch the babies grow up makes it all perfectly acceptable. And it should be.

The point of all of this is not to make you feel guilty. Though, if you feel guilty it is because you’ve identified something within your own life that your mind feels you should feel guilt about.

This is merely an exercise in perspective. A gentle reminder of how good you have it. What you are unhappy over many people would be thankful for. Yes, you have the right to complain, but you also have a responsibility to acknowledge everything you’re fortunate enough to have.

Approach life with enthusiasm. Be grateful for all that you have and can be because of where you were born. Protect the rights of future generations to have a happy childhood. And try to live, if even for a few moments a day, as if you were an infant. Be happy. Be loving. Be curious about the world around you. And try to maintain perspective when you’re feeling overwhelmed or unhappy. After all, It can always be worse.

Life is better with sprinkles! (Or: Let them eat cake!)

Life is about living. I’ve said this before. You only get this one life and if you don’t enjoy it, what’s the point? I’ve also pointed out that any “diet” that doesn’t let you live isn’t sustainable. Well, we put that theory to the test this past week. My son’s father turned 38 (yeah, he’s old… but still cute) and you know what birthdays mean… cake and food. In large quantities, generally speaking.

It started Thursday with a fairly healthy dinner of homemade hamburgers on fabulous whole wheat buns. But then came the cake… four layers of chocolate death, overloaded with miniature chocolate chips and filled with whipped cream. Top that with buttercream icing and you have a sugar coma just waiting to happen. We all had a slice (well, everyone but the little man, who still staunchly refuses to eat anything “normal”) and as we were all sitting there settling into our food comas I asked “so, who votes I take the remainder of this cake to work tomorrow?”

There was an immediate consensus, so there was no repeat of chocolate overload in our household the next day. Friday is our usual cheat dinner day so we had pizza. I love pizza Fridays. But then Saturday… Oh lord.

I took the birthday boy (err… man) out to dinner. We hit up a highly reviewed local Brazilian steakhouse. If you’ve never been to one, let me explain. It’s all about the meat. It is meat, meat, meat, and more meat. There’s a salad bar, sure, but as yummy as the offerings there, the main attraction are the numerous gauchos walking around with various cuts of meat on spits, offering you everything from lamb, to filet, to rib eye steak. There are sausages and chicken legs and bacon wrapped goodness everywhere you look. You pay a flat rate for each diner and in return you get a little disk.

When you flip the disk to the green side, you’re swarmed by gauchos, all sweet and polite and bearing meaty death anyway you like it. Flip it to red and they leave you to stuff your face in peace.

Needless to say I warned the birthday boy to wear loose-fitting pants. After overdosing on meat we went back to my sister’s house for beer and board games. My brother-in-law is a game reviewer, so he gets all kinds of cool games to play for free (in addition to press passes to events like Comic-Con, where he meets people like William Shatner, Robert Downey Jr., and Nathan Fillion… he’s such an asshole – because he never invites me!!! LOL).

Anyway, the games are always new and interesting and we have a blast playing them. On the way back to my sister’s house though, I said to the birthday boy “ugh… you better hope she’s not planning cake or anything.” This earned a very heartfelt groan from the passenger seat.

Our little man had a blast running around with his cousin, until he tried to slide under the railing to the stairs feet first. We all had a heart attack when my niece started yelling for us. Mind you, we were only five feet away, but the stairs are around a small corner in my sister’s usually very child safe house. Thankfully, our little snot is a little too big to fit all the way through and no harm was done (unless you count our nerves being completely fried).

A reprimand for the little boy and huge hugs for the little girl and all was well again.

… and it was time for cake. Oh, the poor birthday boy.

When the night of fun and games was over my brother-in-law was packing up the cake. I adamantly told him “we are not taking that home”. There was a small fuss, but in the end I was brooking no argument.

So, we lived this past week. It’s a good thing exercising is a part of living as well and that over-indulgence only happens on occasion.

Enjoy life. Overeat once in a while. Try new restaurants. But know when to say no. Don’t take the cake home with you because if it’s in your house, you’ll eat it all.

But whatever you do, don’t skip the experiences just because you’re on a “diet”. After all, life is always better with a few sprinkles and a little icing.

20 Days Into Our Love Affair with Real Food.

  

Apple fruit
Apple fruit (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

We’re 20 days into our eating re-vamp and I have to say I’m extremely surprised at how well it’s going. After purging the kitchen of processed boxed foods and stocking it with wholesome real food we’ve found ourselves reaching for fresh fruit, veggies or nuts for snacks. Irish oatmeal or hardboiled eggs have replaced cereal on the breakfast menu and leftovers from dinner are my staple for lunch.

I’ve lost the 5 pounds I put on the last couple months and Vance is down something like 15 pounds (of course, he’s also training for a triathlon, so…. ) The only problem I have with real food is that it takes real work. Washing, rinsing and prepping foods and vegetables takes time. To be honest though, it doesn’t seem to take any more time than cooking boxed foods and luckily, I’ve always enjoyed the details in cooking a meal.

I’ve learned a few new things:

What you can and cannot successfully vacuum seal.

Organic fruit is generally more ripe than the non-organic, so don’t buy more than a few days’ worth at a time.

If you don’t have junk in the house, you don’t snack on it.

Black beans go great in just about everything.

It’s very easy to cut up a whole chicken (and save money at the same time).

Three four inch pancakes are more than just filling when they’re whole grain, they’re practically gut busting.

And…

Real Food goes further than you think!!

We’ve been working on matching our real food to proper portion sizes with great success. Yes, 3 – 4 ounces of protein per meal really is enough when it’s served with correct serving of starch and veg. Last night we had steaks with fresh steamed green beans (I purchased three one pound (+/-) bags of fresh green beans for less than $1 each on special and discovered that 1lb is perfect for two servings plus lunch leftovers!!) and an experimental dish of cheesy potatoes.

So here’s my breakdown on the potatoes (which turned out awesome, by the way.)

First of all, if you have a slicer, you’d be surprised at how quickly this side dish goes together.

Second of all, for what came out to be four servings, it only took TWO average sized baking potatoes. Yes, TWO sliced potatoes overfilled a 12inch sauté pan.

I boiled some 2% milk with a tablespoon of butter and added the thinly sliced (thank goodness for the mandolin slicer – they were potato chip thin) potatoes. They simmered for 15 minutes.

Lowered the heat and added 1 cup (+/-) “Quattro fromaggio” cheese blend from Trader Joe’s and stirred carefully for another 5 minutes on low heat, until the cheese mixed with the potato starch and a sauce formed.

That’s it. Quicker than boxed Au Gratin and far more tasty and, for less!! I paid approximately 50 cents for the potatoes and 2.99 for the bag of cheese (we used a little less than half the bag). Milk was like ¼ cup. So, the whole side dish was a few pennies more than $2. What do you pay for all the Chemicals in Betty Crocker’s Au Gratin?

Now, if you’ll remember, this “new” way of eating isn’t about denial or restrictions. It’s about making smarter choices when it comes to food and trying to limit exposure to today’s highly processed and chemical laden foods. We haven’t cut out any real food group. We still consume starch, fats, oils, protein, milk, etc. We’ve cut down on sugar intake and we’ve done our best to eliminate chemically processed foods wherever possible. I’m still at a loss for how to explain this to people when they ask. There is no true name for it. We’re not following the rules of “clean eating” in the strictest sense because I don’t think there’s anything wrong with white potatoes, egg yolks, or whole milk products, per se. It’s certainly not Paleo or South Beach or Atkins or whatever other fad diet is out there right now.

We’ve traded white flour for whole grain flour. Boxed for homemade. Sugar substitutes for natural sugar. Canned or prepared for fresh veggies and fruits. Takeout for quick family meals. Overeating for conscious eating.

We’re just trying to eat real food and we’re incorporating more variety. We try to be “clean” in that our food is as close to nature as we can get it, reasonably speaking.

But… we’re also allowed to splurge a little here and there. Recently we installed a bicycle seat for our son on my bike. He sits in front, not in back because, as far as I see it, if even Charlie Brown makes fun of “Back of the Bike day!” then I have plenty of reason not to want my kid to have to stare at my backside on bike rides. J

If we want ice cream or, more accurately for us, Italian ice, we can walk or bike ride over to our favorite storefront to buy it… and we’ve done just that. The point is that if it’s not in the house, it’s a treat that you’re less likely to overindulge in and you get a bit of exercise in the process of getting it. We also get constructive family time out of it and, hopefully, we’re teaching our son to be more active in the process.

However you look at it, we’re beginning to reap the benefits of eating better and we’re certainly feeling better about what we’re eating.  

photo : Utilisateur:Wilrondeau

photo : Utilisateur:Wilrondeau (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve learned one more important thing this month that I absolutely wanted to share to those people who are struggling with diet, exercise and weight loss.

 

When you eat real food, you don’t need to count calories. This is the most surprising for me but it also seems so simple that I can’t believe it took me so much time to realize it. We eat lots of vegetables, yes. But we also eat A LOT of fruit. I’m purchasing 20+ pounds of fruit every week now. Apples, Oranges, Plums, Peaches, Strawberries, Blackberries, Blueberries, Apricots, Watermelon, Bananas… the list goes on forever. We also consume nuts (legumes) in large quantities throughout the week. A couple of pounds a week is a large quantity to us. Almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, walnuts and peanuts go quickly in our house. We consume a variety of cheeses with our nuts or fruits and veg for quick snacks. And we keep a dozen hardboiled eggs in the fridge for when we need a fast protein boost pre or post workout.

Now, I’ve heard of “diets” that restrict fruit or cut it out completely because of the natural sugar content. I’ve also heard of “diets” that limit nuts because of the calorie and fat content. I say Bah-Humbug to those “diets”. Fruit and nuts are filling and difficult to over-eat. (with the exception of cashews, I could eat a half a pound in one sitting! They’re my favorite!!)

So here’s some basic logic for you. When we think of snacks most people reach for: candy, potato chips, cookies, crackers, etc. These have been labeled “snack food” for whatever ungodly reason. They even come in 100 calorie snack packs to convince you that they’re okay to eat for a snack. These snack packs are generally 1-2 oz. So, you can eat 1.5 oz. of potato chips for roughly 100 calories. Open your hand, because that serving will barely fill your palm. Think that 1.5 ounces of fat calories and extremely high salt content is going to satisfy you until your next meal? Yeah, me either.

Now, let’s contrast that. For 20 calories less (on average) you can have a medium sized apple which can weigh between ¼ and ½ a pound depending on variety and season. Full of fiber, naturally sweet, and pretty filling all by itself… It’s certainly more filling than the potato chips and it doesn’t leave you thirsty afterwards. So imagine if you replaced 90% of the “snack foods” in your diet with real foods.

In fact, if you tend to over-eat at meal time, I would highly recommend having a piece of fruit before each main meal. First of all, fruit contains enzymes that help you digest your meal and secondly, the fiber helps fill you up while keeping everything moving in your system.

Scale

I stopped counting calories on July 1st and I’ve had better results on weight loss (which I’m not really trying for) than I did when I was working out four times a week (I SO need to get back to the gym, I’ve been so lazy since Warrior Dash) and tracking my calories to stay under 1200/day. I’m less stressed and, in general, feel better all around. I’ve practically traded my home scale for the fruit scale at the super market and I couldn’t be happier.

Now, to tour all of my local farmer’s markets looking for new finds and to check out some new “markets” to see their offerings. Who would have thought that simply changing how I think about food would become an exploration of my world as well?

Life as a Series of Crossroads

Life Lessons:

Life is a series of crossroads but no matter the direction you take, you end up exactly where you’re supposed to be.

Crossroads

Crossroads (Photo credit: MarkSmallwood)

Your life is a series of days strung together by choices that have been impacted and determined by previous choices. Every day there are new choices to make. Some are too small to give thought (So I want a tall or a trenta iced coffee) and some are so monumental that they appear almost impossible to wrap your mind around. As someone who used to obsess over every choice I encountered I find it interesting that I can now make decisions without thought. Every once in a while though… there’s that one choice that smacks me upside the back of the head and knocks me silly.

I’m a person of faith, not in the religious sense. I have faith in my life, faith in the people I love, and faith that, in general, everything is going to be A-OK. Everything works out the way it is supposed to in the end. That doesn’t stop me from wondering how in the hell things could possibly work out when I’ve got an impossible decision to make or I’m not sure which direction I should go with something. Faith doesn’t mean impervious.

I’ve embarked on numerous personal journeys the last four years of my life, some were voluntary, others were not, and all of them have led me to where I am right now. I’m facing another multitude of decisions that need to be made. Each of them requires thought and some of them have deadlines as soon as the next few weeks of my life. I’m feeling a little unsure and fragile at the moment, but it’s tempered by my cheerful outlook on life and the fact that I stand behind my decisions, no matter the outcome in the end.

You can’t cheat yourself out of the experience. You should never try to subvert your heart and you should always follow your instincts. I’m taking one step at a time on my own personal path of these crossroads with the knowledge that no matter how it turns I was brave enough to take chances, create my own destiny, and enjoy the ride.

The point of this lesson is that, as a person, I recognize my own insecurities enough to differentiate them from my instincts, and I try – every day – not to let them rule my life. I encourage you to ask yourself why you choose to react to life the way that you do. Is it instinct or insecurity?

Enjoy your crossroads, no matter the direction you choose to go and have faith that you’ll navigate your way to where you are meant to be.

 

Oops… There goes my food budget.

Our Clean Eating adventure began with a trip to one of my all-time favorite Grocery Stores: Trader Joe’s.

It’s like Whole Foods meets Aldi and I’ve been in love with TJ’s for years, if for nothing else than the cheese section. It took over an hour and a half, which, if you’ve ever been in a Trader Joe’s, you know is a long time, because the store itself is fairly small when compared to other local grocery stores. I went over my budget, by like, a lot and there was a mind-boggling amount of label reading involved, but all in all I’ll happy with the way my fridge and cabinets are stocked right now. Whole wheat pastas, ethically raised chicken and beef, organic fruit, and a couple of really phenomenal cheeses. I’ve got almonds, cashews, pistachios, and hazelnuts to snack on. There are lettuces galore – all beautifully vacuum sealed in my fridge – and fruit a plenty.

Last night’s dinner consisted of hamburgers, made with 94% lean beef and seasoned lightly. They were served on lettuce wraps, not because we can’t eat buns, but because I forgot to pick some up and didn’t feel like running out to the store to read the ingredient listings again. Add in some organic sweet corn on the cob and a baked potato and it was a meal fit for a king. Not the most experimental menu item, but still rather satisfying.

One of our large challenges is going to be portion sizes. We’re allowed an almost unlimited amount of fruit and veg, but we’re as used to overeating on meat as the rest of the US.  The burger patties were pre-portioned, so we were allowed one each. Satisfying but not overly filling, we followed our meal up with a fruit salad for dessert. Fresh Pineapple, nectarines, raspberries, blackberries and strawberries with no added sugar; it truly didn’t need any. Once all of the flavors mingled and we started eating my son’s father looked over at me and said, “This is probably the best thing I’ve ever tasted in my whole life”. That made me smile.

In addition to my excursion to Trader Joe’s, I’ve been picking up a few clean eating foods here and there the past month. I’m extremely pleased with one brand I’ve come across in particular. Bobs Red Mill has a line of products to suit our new dietary needs without sacrificing flavor in the littlest bit. As I was browsing the aisles in one of my local markets two weeks ago, I came across their line of products. All lined up on the shelves and minimally packaged in their clear plastic bags, and I was instantly smitten. I picked up the seven grain blend pancake mix. We had these for dinner last Thursday. I altered the recipe just a smidge and made them with unsweetened vanilla almond milk (about ¼ cup more than the recipe called for) to lighten up the heavy batter just a little bit.

They were amazing with just a couple of tablespoons of 100% all natural organic preserves. They were also unbelievably filling and I was only able to eat three 4” pancakes.

 

My adventure actually started Saturday when I started overhauling my kitchen supplies. Sure I was going to have to throw away a bin full of food I approached my kitchen with apprehension.

I took an inventory of my freezer and found:

Three bags of broccoli

One bag of Green Beans

Two pounds of baby scallops

2.7 pounds of boneless skinless chicken breasts

1 pound of ground chicken

8 Salmon Filets

1 Salmon Steak

Two Ahi Tuna Steaks

A pound of lean beef steak

And a couple of bags of frozen fruit.

I cleaned out all of the non-clean-eating friendly foods and donated them to my parents and other family members. I’m happy to say that there is nothing left in my kitchen that doesn’t meet our clean eating standards and I didn’t have to throw away much at all.

I gave up all the powdered drink mixes, baking mixes, cereals, processed boxed entrees and “instant” sides. Still, when I go to grab a snack or pack my meals for work, I don’t feel deprived. Almost any recipe I love can be adapted for clean eating and I have a fridge and pantry completely overflowing with nutritious clean eating options for meals and snacks.

My finances recently took a hit (with all the days and holidays off deducting hours from my paycheck) and I’m going to be watching every penny for the next few weeks but looking at what I have available for meals, I don’t feel broke in the least.

In fact, the burgers we had last night were topped with a cheddar cheese that was so decadent that I almost feel rich. If you have the ability to get to a Trader Joe’s, I highly recommend the Londoner Cheddar. It’s white cheddar, medium sharp, and it just melts in your mouth. Slightly tangy, it’s got a very mellow after bite and it went phenomenally well on our lettuce wrapped burgers. With cheese like that you don’t need mayo or ketchup. Just add a slice of heirloom vine ripened tomato and you’ve got a meal bursting with complex flavors to tease your palate.

I even found a clean eating indulgence. I LOVE peppermint patties and was actually upset that I’d have to give up my York brand (along with snickers and balance bars) but I came across a version that TJ’s carries made only with Dark Chocolate, Honey, and Peppermint oil. I daresay they’re actually superior to the York version and I couldn’t be happier.

My son’s father got a good laugh out of my Vacuum Sealer binge, in which I vacuum sealed just about everything perishable to extend refrigerator shelf life but, since he’s benefitting through the fresh and tasty meals I’m making, he was smart enough not to make any wise-acre comments. Now, if I could just get my finicky almost three-year old on the “let’s eat something other than bread and cereal” train, I’d truly be over the moon. One day at a time, I guess.

 

A Warrior Woman Rises!

Warrior Dash was amazing. I’m totally hooked. Not a fan of the running part, mostly because I slacked off the last couple weeks with my running program, but I loved the obstacles. I feel like I zipped through all of them. Next year, however, I want an earlier run on the first day. By my wave on Day 2 the course was destroyed and there were numerous times where I had to proceed with extreme caution, including an entire half mile where I feel like it took me 20 minutes for what should have taken 5. But, I finished in 1 hour, 6 minutes and I completed every obstacle.

Fire Jump

I moved like I had blinders on, my only concern with forward momentum. One of the last obstacles, a steep hill rope climb with wooden slats to help you up, had a line at the bottom. For good reason too, it was at the end of the half mile mud disaster and the wooden boards and rope were completely slicked over with slimy mess.

 At the far edge I noticed there was no wait… there was also no rope. After a quick survey of the climb itself I decided I could barrel through with no rope. Carefully placing my feet on the bottom slat I reached up and forward to grab the next slat so I could get a foot hold on it. I spider crawled my way up to the next level of muddy mess until I was through. As I waited for my teammates at the top, I treaded carefully to a quasi-dry patch to catch my breath and exhaled in victory. I was three obstacles and about .2 miles from the finish. That last half mile of slipping and sliding through the mud took a lot out of me, but I felt accomplished. The rope wall climb, the horizontal cargo net, the rock climbing wall, the barbed wire army crawls… it was all so much more fun than I expected.

 I can’t wait until next year. I’m going to get my running up to par and then next year I want to finish time under 45 minutes. I also want to fund raise as a Warrior for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. It’s a great cause and I feel that these challenges need a higher purpose for me to find them truly satisfying. This year I donated my shoes (which were in okay condition prior to the race) to Green Sneakers for cleaning and reuse. That coupled with the fact that this was my first race (of ANY KIND, let alone off-road obstacles) made finishing a very satisfying accomplishment.

Mission Accomplished

Mission Accomplished!

My shopping for my “clean kitchen” continued yesterday with an enormous grocery trip that consisted of 4 dozen cage free, vegetarian fed brown eggs (on sale for 2.49), about 25 lbs of fruit and veggies, 10 lbs of chicken, and 4 pounds of steak. Now I need to spend a day cooking, portioning, and freezing meals for the next two weeks. Which will put me into my deadline of July 1st. If I can keep it to 150 every two weeks, I’ll be ecstatic. But I’m pretty sure I’m going to over-run my budget on occasion. On the plus side, the 4th of July is coming up… this is my favorite time to stock up on post-holiday sale meats. Two years ago I purchased 77lbs of various meat cuts for 82 dollars. Portion Packaged and frozen, that purchase lasted me 9 months. I’m hoping to repeat that this year… though I might need a deep freezer by the time I’m done.

After resting following Warrior Dash (glad I took a day off of work) I’m looking at my finances and my schedule so I can plan my training program. I’ll let you know how that pans out.

 Hope everyone is enjoying this early summer weather as much as I am!!

Always challenge what you think you’re capable of. You’ll probably surprise yourself with the results!

The SHIT they put in our food and other highlights.

By now it should be quite clear that I am not a writer. A poet, I used to be. A mother, I am most definitely. A woman striving to live the “good” life, absolutely. I share what I feel is worth sharing and sometimes I blog to clear my head.

Today is a little of both. I haven’t blogged in a while and my brain is swimming with thoughts I need to express; some of which may actually be worth sharing.

Progress, on almost all fronts, has stalled to a certain degree. Following a money crunch, I couldn’t re-up my fitness classes this session. And, without appointments to keep me on track, I got lazy. Well, as lazy as one can get when you still have a two-year old to keep up with and a life to live. I’m not gaining or losing weight and my clothes still fit great, so I’m not going to sweat it too much. I know I’ll get back into my classes because I enjoyed them so much and I actually miss them.

We took a family trip to the Dells, where I formed a whole new obsession for Bikinis. I now have four of them. My reasoning is that I’m looking for the “Perfect” bikini. But, since I’m limited to JC Penney (where I can charge them) I doubt the “perfect” bikini is going to be found this season.

My little man, who is so close to being 3 that I don’t want to call him 2 anymore, started swimming on his own during that trip. Safely bundled up in his life vest he now kicks and paddles back and forth from mommy to daddy and back again. He jumps off the short ledges, disappears under the water, and pops back up with an enormous grin on his face. It brought tears to my eyes. Bittersweet, proud, and sad tears that only a parent could fully understand. My beautiful little man is growing up and these “little” days will be coming to an end way too soon.

Warrior Dash is this Sunday and I’m fairly certain I’m going to die. But not before completing it. I’m more worried about the heat (projected high of 92) than the running; and the obstacles just look like fun to me. If I can finish under an hour I’ll be happy. But, yeah, I might die afterward. If I do – at least I’ll die with a smile.

I’m preparing for July 1st, when my new, back to basics eating habits are fully enacted. I’ve been cleaning out my cabinets and fridge, trying to put new practices into place in increments and cleaning out all the “junk”. I’ve always been an enthusiast for whole foods. But I’ve been accepting of the “junk” in our lives as a necessary evil or perhaps, just a familiar friend. But as I more actively read labels, more and more products go back on the shelves permanently. Mac and Cheese? HOLY CRAP. Bye. I can make that from scratch in the same amount of time the boxed stuff takes.

I realized that the whole grain, high fiber, super yummy, no HFCS, etc bread that I buy from Trader Joes goes bad in a matter of days if I don’t keep it in the fridge. At first this upset me. Then I realized – wait for it – REAL FOOD SHOULD GO BAD IF NOT REFRIGERATED!!! I know, right. It was like a super startling epiphany. It is NOT natural for bread to sit on your counter for two weeks and not sprout mold. It’s not natural for it to stay soft for two weeks without refrigeration.  There’s a lot of things about our food that we’re used to that isn’t natural. In fact, it’s biologically, ecologically, and chemically just wrong!

And at the same time, there are other things that work in the reverse. Fresh eggs, just laid, can last for weeks (over a month) on your counter or in the coop. But, once washed and processed, they must be refrigerated and they keep for two weeks – Max. I watched an episode of “how it’s made” that included Eggs and it infuriated me. Now, keep in mind that I already buy cage free, organic, humane brown eggs but was willing to substitute regular eggs when money is tight because there’s a big difference between 88 cents and 2.49+.  Not anymore.

Hens (which normally have a life span of 8-16 years depending on the breed and living conditions) are kept in an environment where they are exposed to artificial UV light 24 hours a day, to simulate daylight, and fed a steady diet of hormones, both of which increases egg production. They lay 1-2 eggs a day (normally the best breeds lay a max of 1 egg a day or an average of 1 every 36 hours) and reach the end of their “useful” lives after only 72 weeks. Do the math, that’s a little over a year. And then, of course, they’re sent to slaughter where their unnaturally large chicken breasts (sometimes over a pound each) are sold to consumers for 3-4 dollars a pound.

I’m sickened. Truly, some days I think I should become a vegetarian, because the way we treat the animals we consume makes me sick to my stomach. But I’m far too honest with myself to try becoming a vegetarian. What I can do is purchase meat from animals that have been humanely raised, organically fed, and ethically kept and slaughtered. I already did this when I could afford it. Now, if I can’t afford it, then I either eat less meat or none at all. I can’t keep contributing to the artificially low-cost of meat that is achieved through such heinous methods. It’s a personal decision, and one I came to surprisingly easily.

This will mean some tweaking of my budget come July, because in addition to getting rid of all products that are highly processed and cooking from scratch, I now have the added expense of higher quality meat and eggs. I’m hoping this will balance out with the lower cost of fresh veggies, grains, rice – etc. We’ll see.

I don’t understand how we became so accepting of all of this, pardon my French, shit that we allow in our food. In a relatively short period of time in human history we moved from a 100 percent natural diet where even canned goods were generally homemade to a diet that is 85% chemically or genetically modified. And we wonder why we’re fat. Evolution hasn’t provided us the genetic tools to digest this garbage we’re stuffing into our bodies any more than it’s provided us a way to clean the pollution from the air before it goes into our lungs and our bloodstream. How is it that at the same time we learn more about the human body and how to keep it healthy, the more processed and polluted our food becomes. Technology is allowing us to learn so much more – but it’s also allowing for the development of all this shit that’s going into our food. We were healthier in our food habits back when the human race, in general, didn’t know anything about how, why, or what was healthy.

You wanted to eat, you had to cook. I bet it was a lot easier to eat less (for example) potato chips, when you had to obtain, peel, soak, and fry your own. Hence the logic behind my new lifestyle… When you think about food and snacks, you’re more likely to reach for fruit, vegetables and nuts if the alternative is time-consuming prep work and cooking. That should be reserved for major meals. And if all you have in the house is healthy snacks, you won’t be eating a full bag of potato chips or M&Ms, because they just aren’t there to be eaten.

This isn’t a diet. It’s a return to the way we were meant to look at food. It’s a return to the way we were meant to eat food. And it’s going to be difficult as hell for someone who was raised on a “modern” style of eating. I’m not going Paleo, or Atkins, or Southbeach or whatever trendy title is being thrown around. I’m just trying to get back to the natural way of eating for humans. Fruit, grain, nuts, meat; Less additives and processing and more real food.

I’ve also been looking more into the future of my education. I want to go into Nutrition. Period. I don’t know how I’m going to manage the internship that’s required to get my R.D. but, that’s two years away – minimum. So I’m not going to borrow trouble. I’m just going to pursue my dreams and do what I can, when I can, to make things happen. If it means I have to get my Masters (which usually includes the internship) and take out a huge student loan to live on when I do it, then so be it.

I’ve always been fascinated by the different nutrients, vitamins, bacteria, and acids that occur in food. I find it amazing the way they work inside our bodies and I honestly feel that I’ve finally found my calling. So I’m going to reach out with both arms and step into the unknown. I’m going to hope that, through sheer stubbornness, everything works out.

I’m also looking at buying a house – but I think I’ll leave that story for another post.

Women: Our Sisters; Our Enemies. It’ Time for Change.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: “The only thing holding women back is other women”. It is absolutely ridiculous the way women feel they have to compete with each other by tearing each other down. Snarky comments, unwarranted insults, callous judgment; we’re terrible to each other. What we don’t see is that it’s not only hurtful toward the person you aim it at, it’s self-detrimental as well.

I get that we’re conditioned from birth to be the prettiest, to compete for the attention and affection of other, to be jealous of any girl/woman who has something we covet. But at some point in time, we all grow up. One would think that in growing up we’d be able to teach our daughters, nieces, siblings, etc… to be better women.

The other day I saw a heavier woman jogging on the side of the road. A few years ago I would have thought to myself  –  “Keep going girl, lord knows you need it.” Now I think “Good for you, keep it up!”

It took years of mental conditioning to go from criticizer to cheerleader. We pick on each other on the basis of looks, weight, personality, intelligence, fitness, clothing, boyfriends/girlfriends, occupation, gpa, parents, siblings, children, child rearing practices… the list can literally go on and on. Every single nuance of your life is open for criticism so that another woman can benchmark and unconsciously rank herself against you.

She’s prettier than I am: -1pt

Her house is larger -5 pts:

She drives a nicer car: -3pts

 She’s got much larger boobs: – 1pt

but

Her husband is fatter than mine: +3 pts

Her son got a D in English, mine got an A: +6 pts

Her nose is crooked: +4 pts

Her lawn looks like crap: +3 pts

Her ass is sagging: +6pts

If we could count cards in Vegas the way we tally our social ranking as women, we truly would rule the world.

The problem is, we don’t keep it completely internalized either. The above tallying would converse something like this:

“You look great today, Sally , are you trying new makeup? I don’t know how you keep up with your mortgage payment, don’t you every worry that John will lose his job and you’ll get foreclosed on? The leather seating in your car is so extravagant, it’s too bad it’s not available on my car, but you know my car is eco-friendly, so no animals were hurt in the process of building it. Do you think that much cleavage is appropriate for our outing today? I mean, we’re heading over to a “play-date” so my son can help Johnny Jr. with his English homework. Speaking of Johnny Jr., it looks like all this studying has him behind on his chores, I couldn’t help but notice your lawn is overgrown…. Oh, Johnny Jr. doesn’t handle that? Please tell me John won’t be out there mowing shirtless again. Maybe all of us could hit the Gym together later, I mean, I go every day so my ass doesn’t start sagging.”

And this would be the conversation between “friends”. Can you imagine the out-and-out hostility between people who don’t know each other?

Even with as enlightened as I try to be, I rank myself without thought sometimes. It’s hard work to deprogram a habit you’ve had ever since your school friends pointed out that you were still carrying a Teddy Ruxpin lunchbox when they had already moved on to Barbie or Rainbow Brite. These habits start in grade school. Even my optimistic self can’t conquer them overnight.

When I catch myself rating what I have, how I look, or anything else about me, I have to pull myself back. I have a great family and supportive friends, I’m active and fit and healthy and I’m providing my son with the best foundation I possibly can. I have to work harder at not judging myself than I do at not judging others.

How much do you judge others? How much do you judge yourself? Is there a male perspective out there you can share with me?

Women, answer me this, why can’t we be one large sisterhood? Our mothers and grandmothers fought for equality with men in the workplace, in the political world. They fought for the freedom of choice. We can choose to work. We can choose to vote. We can choose to raise our children as we see fit.

Why, when they struggled for this equality, do we now see fit to terrorize other women based on their choices or even worse, on their looks?

The next time you feel you have the right to judge another woman, think about whether or not you’re doing it just to make yourself feel better. Seek out your own insecurities and attack them with the same vigor you attack other women and maybe, just maybe, we can finally take a step towards building a web of support and cheering on other women that changes the future of womanhood for the following generations.

Smile sympathetically at the woman whose child is having a meltdown in a public place instead of shaking your head in disdain.

Cheer on the woman who has the confidence to jog in public for working to better her health.

Be supportive of a woman’s choice to breastfeed, or bottle feed, or co sleep or detachment parent.

Embrace the crooked noses, the uneven skin tones, or any other physical trait that makes a fellow woman unique.

Spread laughter and acceptance so that you can reap laughter and acceptance in return.

To any woman who reads this who has ever been judged by herself or others, let me say “I accept you, I support you, and I will cheer you on as you struggle to make your path in this world. Be happy with who you are and I will be happy for you as well!”

Just my thought of the day.

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Judgement Day

Warrior DashJune 17th, 2012
Judgement Day: A day to push past my limits, cavort in the mud, and celebrate with a beer!
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