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December 24, 2014

New eyes to see

"Please help me have new eyes to see." "Please help me see life in a different way." "Let me see the beauty in the chaos, the miracles deep within the brokenness, the love and light in the darkness."
These are the prayers I have been saying for a long time now. Probably since I started to learn for myself what prayer meant some time when my oldest son was 2. Prayer is a lot of times reminding myself what I already have learned a long the way but have temporarily forgotten. Mostly prayer is tuning my thinking to the "hope station" which plays some really good, uplifting jams.
I used to have so much mom guilt. I would read those articles about the different things us moms needed to realize and quick! because our kids were growing up and if we didn't act now, it would be too late. Put your phone down, stop yelling, don't worry if your house is a mess, make sure you capture all the happy memories on film or your blog and don't you dare throw away the precious preschool art work or the teeth they lose. It's like sometimes we are force fed this notion that being who we are right now is not good enough, that our fumbling's are royally screwing our kids up to no return and that we should be striving for a better picture of motherhood, one where the fighting kids are precious memories that we will someday miss. And I get it!  Conviction about our shortcomings can help motivate us to love our kids harder. But right around the time that I found myself sobbing on the bathroom floor after watching a lady whose kids went off to college talk about all of these sad things, all these regrets, and then I was apologizing to the universe for not being a good enough mother, I told myself that enough was enough. I stopped reading most of those articles and just vowed to figure it out as I go along with love and a big dose of grace.
Yelling isn't always effective but sometimes it absolutely is. I am a damn good apologizer when I make mistakes, and you know what? My kids are so good at learning to say sorry. Humbling myself and messing up is teaching my kids how to gracefully mess up as well. I am sure someday my kids will have some issues with how I parented them, and that is okay, because we are all just figuring out this life thing together while making mistakes and therefore making it right.
So, I pray not that I could miraculously make myself a better person or more patient mother, but that I would be given new eyes to see the special things in the mundane. When I ask for that, it's amazing how quickly my perspective changes. Try it sometime.
It is winter break and my husband and I have been juggling our work schedules with the boys being home from school. We have been taking them into work with us because thank Goddess we have such awesome and understanding jobs and colleagues. This morning I admit that I wasn't happy that I had to bring them because it adds another level of stress to be in mom mode and work mode all at the same time. However, it all worked out because I spent the first part of the morning preparing for our holiday staff gathering, decorating with my coworker and preparing all the food. I have a hard time delegating and the boys desperately wanted to help and I was worried about getting it all right. My friend wasn't worried about getting it all right and so she gave the boys tasks to keep them busy. Like big things such as using the can opener to open cans. My first thought was "Eek, they have never done that and it can be dangerous and they don't know how to open cans." They learned. They kept busy setting the table, going upstairs for more Poinsettias to decorate with, putting food on the tables, getting the water bottles from the other room, and while there was some bickering, they mostly worked together as a team. Soon I was jumping in with more work for them and they completed the tasks with such efficiency that I knew I had received an answer to the prayer, "Let me see my boys in a different way." People came up to me over and over telling me that my boys are such awesome helpers, so mature, such great kids, so well behaved, so kind, so sweet."
"You're right. I know it and have eyes to see it now." The "burden" of bringing the boys to work was a wonderful blessing.
Caden lost his tooth while we were sitting down for the staff lunch. It had been bothering him for two days and he excused himself, ran off to the bathroom and came back with tooth in hand. He was so proud that he had taken care of business so he could eat his crunchy taco. My heart swelled as I witnessed my boy man through "proud mama eyes", not "agitated and stressed out over stupid drama eyes." He showed his tooth off to my whole work family and they cheered and clapped and he beamed so big. Thank you for that answered prayer.
As I was clearing our plates, I lost track of his tooth. We scavenged the floor and trash and it was no where to be found. I felt like I had ruined his special moment but holding my breath I apologized to Caden and told him I knew how happy he was to lose his tooth and I promised that if he wrote a letter to the tooth fairy that she would still give him the money. His response, "Ya for sure, it happens all the time. Now I can really say I LOST my tooth." And he smiled and hugged me. Seriously? What a guy. I wish the tooth fairy could give him hundreds of dollars for his soul, for the way he loves and for this giant blessing he is to teach me that having new eyes to see is as simple as leading with your heart.

After work my boss friend said that my boys were amazing kids. I joked that I must be doing something right and she said "You are DEFINITELY doing many things right!"
So here's to looking closely at the blessings right in front of me. And also, here's to not seeing them all the time either. When I can't see then I can say the prayer and ask for help with my vision and witness the shift. And so it goes. I will continue to do it over and over because I want to learn and grow and evolve in my humanity and let my heart expand with as much love as it can possibly hold. I want to be a better mother but the only way I know how to do that is to learn. And probably my kids will always be my greatest teachers.

December 06, 2014

For all the mamas...

For the mom who holds down the fort at home while your spouse is away, this one's for you. We see you wiping noses, coordinating meals, packing lunches, organizing mail, scheduling doctor visits, cleaning up the millionth spill, the Playdoh and the dog food that your toddler insists is a good snack. We see the way you stop what you are doing to rock crying babes, take them to the potty, throw another load of laundry in the dryer again, run to the store all covered in snot and spit-up, field phone calls, and smile when your hubby calls after his nice lunch out with work friends while you pick up Cheerios off the floor by hand because digging out the vacuum seems like too much work. We see that you haven't showered today and we don't judge you. We understand when running out of coffee is equal to running out of life support. We know how it feels lonely sometimes even though the four-year old won't stop chatting to you about Pokemon and Skylanders. We see you stay-at-home mama and how you traded your career, your education, your hopes and dreams for board books, Sesame street and ABC's 10 times a day.  We see the love in your eyes when you look at your child and know it's all worth it, all the exhaustion, demands and giving of yourself as you use this short amount of time to shepherd and teach your little ones, to stay home and hold their hands for a little while.

For the mom who holds down the fort at her desk at work, this one is for you. We see you coordinating your schedule around pumping in the restroom, fielding demanding bosses, clients and patients, running on coffee and fumes after a late evening meeting, a teething child and no sleep. We see the way you wake up every morning and get the little ones breakfast, pack their lunches, get them and yourself ready for school and manage to look not only presentable but damn good. We see how you eat lunch at your desk, a peanut butter sandwich and stare at the pictures of your kids. We know how much you say sorry because you were late, missed the conference call because the babysitter called or had to be out of work yet again because you had to pick up the one with pink eye from school and pray that the others won't catch it because tomorrow is the big meeting. We know the guilt you feel because you feel relieved when it's time to head into the office and the 30 minute car ride gives you a break from a crying baby. We see you working mama, juggling all the balls, and hoping one doesn't drop, jetting from the office to the baseball games and wishing you could be there every time they cry. We see how little time you have for yourself because after work it's all kids, all family, all the time. We see that you traded in napping with your little ones for managing an office, going out into the world everyday so you can better your financial situation for your children, to teach them how to get up and keep going even when life tries to knock you down.

For all mamas everywhere, for each unique situation, may you feel seen and heard. May you escape the judgment of "should-haves" and "would-haves" and rest easy in the love you carry for your children, no matter what path you have chosen. May we all unite in the great responsibilities we have as mothers to teach compassion, love and understanding with non-judging hearts. You are doing a great job, the BEST job, and your children need YOU right where you are.

Blessings and love.

July 15, 2014

The top 10 lessons I am learning right now (and pretty much always)

Starting with age-old clichés, let's make this post all about life, and go!
Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get. Forrest sure carried that lesson with him!
Life is about the journey and not the destination. Sometimes the destination is nice though, too, am I right?!
Life is what you make of it. No denying that one, eh?
Life is short so live it! or life is short, here today and gone tomorrow. I can rally around the sentiments of the first one. Life is meant to be lived, but that sure looks different for everyone, and the second one? I personally try not to get too stuck on the thought that today could be my last day on earth, otherwise one could drive themselves crazy with the what-ifs.  However, in the back of my mind is a simple thought that each day is a blessing and I have the great opportunity to make the most of it.
Carpe diem, seize the day. Any command in Latin should be taken seriously. So do it!
Life is a crapshoot. I am curious how many gamblers use this cliché?
Life goes on. That should always be followed up with Ob-la-di, ob-la-da!! if you really want to emphasize that one.

Life is a b*@#% and then you die. Well, that is one way of looking at it.

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade, or it's whiny brother, life is like a bowl of cherries and this is the pits. I think we should always compare life to fruit. It is just so similar.

Just Do It. I tell myself this every time I lace up my Nike running shoes. Just kidding I don't.

When the going gets tough, the tough gets going. Be really tough to get ahead in life, kids.

Love many, trust few, but always paddle your own canoe. Unless, of course, you're up a creek without a paddle.

Moving on to the top 10 lessons I have been learning (sometimes reluctantly) in my own life. Nothing new here folks, just rehashing many of the things we all learn at one time or another.

1. Don't take life so seriously. Don't take yourself so seriously or your spouse or your children. We are all imperfect creatures living in an imperfect world. Laugh at yourself once and awhile. Do it. Laugh when someone says you have a boogie in your nose. It's endearing. Be thankful they told you.

2. Stop being a perfectionist. Perfection is a made-up word, a treacherous journey to la-la land and eventually crazy town. Who cares if your house isn't always clean, your kids aren't always well behaved, your clothes aren't always ironed, you miss a deadline once and awhile, and your marriage doesn't always look like a fairytale book. None of it is supposed to because, wait for it, life is messy.

3. Don't wait around for others to be kind to you. Be kind first. Joe over there who didn't bother to say hi to you isn't feeling so hot today. Smile at him and give him some love. The man who looks like he is about to cut you off and pass you on the highway is trying to get to a very important interview. Let him over, don't be so rude. Just be kind first and watch what happens in your life. You will attract more kindness everywhere you go when charity of heart begins with you.

4. Every child needs to grow up, eventually. Ever hear of the term, adult wounded child? That's a psychological term that means you struggle with responsibility and adulthood because of a bunch of psychological things that happened in your past. I am one of those. It takes more effort to have resilience when you never quite learned how to face your struggles and overcome them, but the payoff is worth it. Growing up is hard to do.
5. When you grow up, make sure never to lose the childlike wonder completely. You'll be left with a cynical viewpoint about life. It's hard when you are an adult and experience great personal pain, see hurting people all around, and watch many people seemingly have no trouble stepping on others in the pursuit of money and power. The solution is not to say that life is therefore pointless or filled with pain. Deep inside each of us is a space filled with love that springs forth creativity. Something new is made out of brokenness every day, and we can all be redeemed. Find joy in the simple things in life.
6. Approval is not out there. A long time ago I used to listen to Howard Stern. He had a segment where he had women come on the show and he would determine (along with other radio hosts) whether that woman was beautiful or not. Seriously? I used to wonder if they would think I was pretty enough. I can't believe I ever wondered that. It doesn't matter who finds you beautiful or worthwhile. You are beautiful and worthwhile so believe it about yourself. Speak it over yourself every single day. Stop looking to others to approve of you.
7. The truth will set you free. Be honest. There is no need to lie in order save face, to make someone feel better or convince someone else of what you already know inside is a lie. As Dr. Seuss said, be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and  those who matter don't mind.
8. It is better to give than to receive. Just try it. Give without expectations. Be a friend to all. Find happiness in your own heart and let it spill over towards others who are having a hard time finding happiness on their own.
9. Just keep swimming. (Finding Nemo is my favorite Disney movie; Dory got it right with that one!) Get up every morning and know that today is a new day. There are new mercies every morning. Let the challenges of yesterday fall away and raise up to the challenges of today. Find strength where strength is found. There is a life force, a source of strength much greater than our own and it is available at all times. Renew yourself with it and hang on until the storm passes.
10. When all else fails, find some great Facebook quotes or clichés and get happy! ;)

April 02, 2014

Music in the rain

An essay I wrote on November 30, 2011. The message seems fitting now.

There used to be a time in my life when my outlook, my mood, my thoughts, my happiness centered around the weather, circumstances, finances, relationships and good health among others. These are things that are always changing, shifting. And just like the rise and fall of the ocean waves, so went my mood, up and down every day. I had hopes of waking up and looking on the bright side of things, but inevitably something would happen, as life does, to bring me down. It was a terrible way to live, running and hiding when things went wrong, nothing ever going the way I wanted them to for long. I shudder when I think about the countless hours that I laid in bed with the covers over my head, willing my problems away, angry and living in fear that nothing would ever be how I wanted it to be. I tried to turn to medication in order to alleviate the pain of the emotional roller coaster I was on: anti-depressants, anti-anxiety, anti-pain meds. I blamed my pain on hormones, on everybody else, on the heavy workload, on the seasons, on my ill health. I thought if I just had more money, better health, more sunshine, more time to myself, more whatever, then I would be okay. That life would be okay.
As much as I disliked that time in my life and even the person I was back then, the true me, my awakened soul, knows that I must be gentle to her and love that broken girl who was struggling to find her path to joy. Grace allows me to see the truth about that chapter in my journey: how necessary it was to go through in order to fall forward to where I am now.

It rained quite a lot over the last week; quite a few dreary days that make you want to stay in bed. I am also sick with a sinus infection and have been sick off and on for the last month. In spite of that, I was keenly aware of a shift in my perspective about those realities. For one, I noticed myself staring out the window a lot, focused on the rain and the way it slid over the glass, large raindrops and small ones, beating gently in a rhythmic and soothing way. I focused on my breathing when things became overwhelming or when I felt myself slip into a fearful place. And when I couldn't even breath because my sinuses were so clogged, I sat over a steaming bowl of water and inhaled the fragrant sent of tea tree oil, staring at my eyes in the reflection of the water and seeing myself in a whole new way. My eyes didn't look tired even though my body felt that way. They appeared alive, shimmering and dancing to the music inside my heart.

Each day I make an effort to find the things I am thankful for, and to ask the Universe to reveal the lesson I was meant to learn that day. What did each situation, conversation, moment come to reveal to me? What beautiful imprint of life can be permanently etched in my mind like a painting? This week it was about the rain and music. I felt in my soul the realization that there is music in music and there is music in the rain. There is music in the creaking of the stairs and in the dishwasher running. There is music in the way the coins, which slipped out of the pants pockets in the dryer, beat against the sides as it turns and turns. There is music in the laughter of my children. There is music in the wind. There is music in breath. And there is eternal music, the kind that will live on after death and through all of life's rising and falling waves, in that which we call love.

This too shall pass and a gratitude update

The earth's seasons are ever changing, the same way they do in our own lives. Spring is now here and after two glorious days of almost 70 degree weather, I *almost* forget what all those frigid winter days felt like, cold wind blowing on our faces as we quickly got out of cars into houses and into houses from cars. So thankful for warmth and heat when so many go without it. I will someday forget the intense pain that the end of the winter season brought into my life as well.
Two weeks ago I had my gallbladder removed. Random, right, since I haven't written in a couple months? After I switched to a low carb. and high fat/Paleo type diet, I started having some major digestive issues and pain greater than I have ever experienced in my 32 years on earth. At first things were going very well, I had a great amount of energy and felt really healthy, but after what I thought was a night of a stomach bug, everything I ate except very high carb. foods like toast and applesauce caused severe attacks where I would throw up, sweat, shake and feel as if I would pass out from the pain. The second time I experienced an attack like this, I had my husband drive me to the ER. They did a stomach x-ray and determined I had no major blockages so the doctor in the ER asked me to follow up with a surgeon to get my gallbladder checked out because the pain was in that general area. He wasn't sure if it was a stomach virus or an organ on the fritz. I followed up with the surgeon and had two tests done on my gallbladder. The first ultrasound did not reveal any stones so they ordered a HIDA scan which helps detect how well the gallbladder is emptying. The results of that test made it clear that my gallbladder was on a downward spiral and there would be no diet or medicine that could keep it from getting worse than it already was. The doctor gave me the option to wait it out but knowing the pain I was in and how completely non-functional I was becoming as a mama to my boys and around my house, I quickly opted to get the defective part removed ASAP.
During the three week wait from the beginning of my gallbladder attacks and the subsequent surgery, I prayed A LOT for healing and relief. The things I was putting my hope in were not working and I felt a loss of control which brought me time and time again to a quiet place. I find that I have the most time to sit in silence and allow space for meditation and prayer in the bath and I soon realized that the warmth of the water not only took some of the great pain away, it provided a peaceful place to help me sort out all of the strong emotions I was feeling in my vulnerable state. One day after a severe attack, I made my way to the bath and while I prayed, my husband began to do research on his phone as he sat next to me. He spent so many hours sitting next to me on the ground next to our bathtub and was a constant source of calm and peace to my heart. He discovered that apple cider vinegar sometimes helps in gallbladder attacks and quickly went to go get some. (Again, grateful that we keep these type of remedies on hand!) I drank it up, in spite of how bitter and strong it was, but I had faith that it would work and it did!! I also felt a strong feeling that the bath would continue to work time and time again and when I came out of the tub I could use a heating pad and some essential oils on my stomach to help calm the attack.
I am very grateful that after a week of intense pain and having to use narcotic drugs which did not help as much as one would expect, I had found a simple solution that was straight from the earth!
So surgery day came and I was prepared for a quick recovery like many said they experienced. I guess I wasn't quite prepared for how much pain I would be in after my surgery, but I rested and walked, ate healthy, low fat foods and after about five days I felt mostly recovered and well on my way to health and wellness once again. Since that time, I have been feeling great. My body is adjusting to life without the g.b. but I feel better than I have in years and I really believe this was an answer to a prayer I have had for the longest time for an answer to be revealed about what has been plaguing me and my stomach for almost seven years. Now spring is here and it truly brings renewal in so many ways and a continued attitude of thankfulness as I keep searching for the things I am grateful for each day of 2014.
Here are a few of those moments I am grateful for since my last update. I only take these photos with my phone, trying to use it in a positive way instead of letting it consume me with social media and other things that I don't always feel are the best uses of my time. ;-)
 Books for rest and recovery and a beautiful library and quiet time to enjoy them
 Making homemade almond bread for dear friends
 Valentine's day gifts and a heart shaped breakfast!

 Lunch on the deck with my little buddy

 Time spent with these handsome fellas

 A couch nap instead of laundry
My sweet boys with haircuts. I just love them so much! 

 Pretty table offerings
 Smoothies! Yum!
 Sunshine streaming in to greet us and give us kisses.

Finally we made it to April. So grateful for that. This is a picture of my little handsome guys standing in front of the castle where their daddy and I got married. It's so sweet to think this is where our family's story began <3
Celebrating spring, renewal and the many things we have to be grateful for, knowing that each season shall pass by so quickly and I don't want to miss a thing!

January 30, 2014

10 ways food is changing my life

For quite some time I have been nurturing a love affair with food. It all sort of began when my youngest was diagnosed with food allergies and then later myself and over the last five years my love of nutritious, delicious food has become a large part of my every day life.  Food: it is most often on my mind and when it's not on mine, it is most certainly on the minds of my boys. I am usually asked what is for lunch at breakfast and what is for dinner at lunch. I keep an ongoing grocery list on my phone for my weekly shopping trips and an overflowing board of healthy recipes on Pinterest.
Not only do I love food because of all of the obvious reasons, the way flavor combinations taste and the way homemade baked goods smell and how great it feels to have a stocked pantry and refrigerator, there are other reasons why I love food and more importantly I love how it is changing my life.
1. Cooking and baking are an extension of creativity. I love being creative, and in fact it is something I need like the air I breathe. Without creativity, I become a sad creature. Over the years I have loved to paint, scrapbook, make collages and jewelry out of shells and other beach trinkets. I of course love to write and now my main outlet for creativity is cooking and baking, so today I combine my love of both. What used to be a monotonous chore when my kids were younger, picky and hard to cook for, has now blossomed into something rewarding and gratifying. Their view of food did not change over night, but through encouragement, reintroduction of foods they used to dislike and a complete lifestyle change, their palates have expanded, the list of healthy foods they love has grown and they feel the great effects of a nutritious diet as much as I do.

This is me drinking tea at work. A great testimony to how happy I have been lately. 
2. Food brings our family together. There is nothing like "breaking bread"; that time spent around the table talking, laughing, telling stories and just being a family. We eat almost every meal together, most certainly dinner as a foursome and over the years we have made this a special time to give thanks, talk about the important things going on in our lives and listen and value each other. The TV goes off, music goes on and we sit down each and every night collectively. It is something I cherish.

 Homemade, grain-free, fiber-filled bread.
 Sunday morning brunch with PB&J pancakes, bacon and scrambled eggs with greens.
3. Food allows us to try new things. Yesterday I made eggs over easy or "dipping" eggs as we lovingly referred to them growing up. It was my 5-year old's first time trying them as he has had an egg allergy up until this year. While I was busy cleaning up I heard him exclaim, "I can't believe I have one more thing to get used to. I have to get used to the yellow part of these dipping eggs and then I know I will like it." What a proud Mommy moment! Instead of immediately proclaiming that he doesn't like them and refusing to eat them, he took the attitude I have been trying to teach them over the last two years that sometimes we need to get used to new things before they become something we enjoy. I kept thinking about that statement all throughout the day and how this doesn't just apply to food. What if we could walk around with an open mind and tell ourselves, "I just need to get used to that person and then I bet I will like them", or "I just need to get used to that job, situation, circumstance before I grow to understand it.  I have applied this same technique with new foods in my own life. When you come away from eating processed foods which are made to entice a certain chemical response in the body and mind, it can be hard to switch to eating raw carrots, apples, new vegetables and find the same feeling of satisfaction you have biting into, say, a doughnut or juicy cheeseburger. Overtime, however, my body and mind have formed a strong connection between the sweet taste of a green apple and the vitamins they provide and I find I crave healthy foods and no longer desire foods that do not sustain me.
Baked Tilapia and vegetables in parchment paper pouches with a side salad

4. Cooking is love made visible.  I recently saw a beautiful picture of that quote and sent it to my husband. He wrote back that he strongly agreed. Last year I learned that my love language is "Acts of Service." The way I am most comfortable expressing my love for others and having love expressed back to me is through giving and doing. After discovering this I fully understood how nurturing, cleaning, laundry, cooking and baking are all ways I show love to my family. I cook almost three meals per day for my boys when I can and if I cannot cook breakfast then they eat a low sugar cereal with almond milk. They know when I wake up early and put together a special pancake stack with bacon and fruit, that they are loved. At dinner, because of their Daddy's example, they will often say, "Mommy, you cook the best food," or "Thank you so much for cooking for us," and they are never short on compliments. I think it is really important for parents to model table side manners for our children. My husband never says he does not like something or refuses to try something. He just quietly brushes it aside if it is something he would prefer not to eat (such as tomatoes) and he always commends me for a dinner well made. With two boys looking to their father for an example and knowing how important it is that my children be risk takers with new foods, I so appreciate his daily effort to support me in this way. I love to love my family and food is one tool I use to express that love.

 2 ingredient pancakes (plus cinnamon and vanilla) with homemade blueberry "syrup"
Cinnamon puff cereal rolled in unsweetened shredded coconut 
5. Food is great for sharing!  If I could afford to host a dinner party every week I totally would! It is rewarding to cook a great meal for friends or family and invite them over to celebrate a special occasion or just for fun. I love being able to share new recipes our family loves or introduce them to nutritious foods they may have never tried before. This year we hosted "Friendsgiving" and I cooked a sustainably raised, pastured, organic turkey for the first time. For my sister's birthday we invited her family over for stuffed spinach and feta chicken, roasted butternut squash and salad plus wine and gluten free cupcakes. Another great and simple way to pass on your favorite foods is by sharing a meal with a family in need. There are many great ideas online about what you can cook for a family bringing home a new baby, battling sickness or suffering a tragedy. Relieving the burden for someone and providing a meal is one of the kindest and most caring things you can do. I have been the recipient of meals like that during hectic times in our lives and I promise you, it will always be appreciated!
Sweet potato, kale and turkey meatball soup in homemade chicken broth. Soul soup, as I call it, can be a great meal to deliver to a family in need. I have even sent soup to work for my husband's coworkers in the past.
6. Discovering all of your favorite take-out meals, healthier and homemade. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a super health freak and I still sometimes crave all of the things we used to get as take out more so because of the convenience it brought to my life.  Last week my husband stated that he could really go for some Kung Pao Chicken from the local Chinese food joint. Mmmmm. Chinese sounded so good at that moment and I really did not feel like cooking that particular evening, but as soon as I thought about all of the salt and fat and who know what else hiding in the delicious take out boxes, and imagined how terrible I could feel the next day, I shook my head no. That week I bought all the supplies needed to make my own version of Kung Pao, substituting brown rice for white, using low sugar ingredients and organic chicken. He was won over by the home cooked version and enjoyed it for lunch the next day. If we do eat out, we often choose Chipotle as this is the best option for our family. We can get behind what they try to do in the community with sustainable agriculture, supporting local farmers and using fresh and wholesome ingredients. Even then, I was excited to create my own version of the infamous Burrito Bowl using organic meats like ground turkey or shredded chicken, spinach, quinoa, soaked black beans, goat cheese and homemade salsa. It's always nice to have an option when needing a place to eat out in a pinch, but this was such a quick and easy meal to make that it is now a staple on busy weeknights.

"Knock-off " Burrito Bowls
Homemade Gyros with Greek salad and rice pilaf
Cauliflower pizza crust pizzas, our new favorite "take out" food.
7. Putting our money where our mouths are. We get to vote with our paycheck. Each time we shop at the grocery store or eat at restaurants, we are padding the wallets of the companies that we buy products from. For our family, this means paying attention to what type of ingredients are being used in our favorite foods like cereal, for instance, and I often spend time investigating the companies and what contributions they are making in society or whether they are hindering the sustainability movement that we support. We often take advantage of farmer's markets, getting to know where our produce and meats are coming from, whether the animals are being raised ethically, pastured versus caged, organic versus conventional and supporting local businesses when we can. We live in a town with great local restaurants and two farmer's markets each week during the farming season. Local produce is so much less expensive than produce in the grocery stores and the best part is that it is fresh! Last year we took part in a farm share where we were delivered a basket of produce each week. We are also part of a cooperative that participates in buying health items at discounted prices and other essential products from companies we feel happy supporting. These small changes make a difference in supporting a healthier, greener future for our children and planet. It is not the only avenue we must walk in our quest for social responsibility, but taking a deeper look at the food we put in our bodies is certainly a great place to start.
Stuffed peppers with peppers from our local community market 
8. Food is medicine. We have all heard this before, but the truth of this statement has become very relevant in my life as I heal a multitude of illnesses that I have struggled with for years. I admit this does take some investigation which takes time, but I find it fascinating all of the ways which food can help different ailments and all the vitamins and minerals food provides. We all know that eating a lot of oranges can help provide much needed Vitamin C for colds and flu's, but did you know that sunflower seeds are an excellent source of Vitamin E, the body's primary fat-soluble antioxidant, and they supply significant amounts of magnesium and selenium? Sunflower seeds also have Phytosterols which lower cholesterol. Everything we put in our body can have a healing or harming effect. Supporting my health with nutritious, whole foods has had a wonderful outcome on not only myself but the well being of my whole family.  This year alone we have been sick less often, I have not struggled with the seasonal depression I normally deal with in winter and I feel happier and less irritable, a major bonus when dealing with rowdy, growing boys! My youngest son, who exhibits behavioral changes when exposed to sugar and dyes in food, has been much calmer and happier since going off of refined sugars and processed foods. There is a great quote I often see floating around that says "We can pay the farmer now or pay the doctor later."

 Lunch: Stuffed lettuce wraps with tuna and avocado salad, roasted broccoli and fiber packed oatmeal cookies.

Meal prep! When I have time on Sundays I will prepare food for a couple days which takes the burden off of me when I am home with the boys without my husband's help. Salad, zucchini patties, snacks, stuffed peppers, green smoothies and chia breakfast pudding with blueberries.
9. Growing our own food. Many people I know and love are already growing their own food. Seeing a garden in the average backyard is pretty common where I live, but until this year, I have been a bit afraid and unsure of where to begin. I have managed to grow herbs in pots but I am not much of a green thumb. My desire to save money and have my own source of vegetables is really great this year, so with the help of some veteran garden growers, I am going to make the leap into home growing! My hope is that I will learn the ropes of outdoor gardening and someday have an indoor hydroponics garden in my basement for winter produce as well. Next month I will plant my seeds, grow my seedlings inside and be ready to start my spring, summer and autumn garden in my own backyard. This is an incredible way to take health into your own hands, get outside in the sunshine, and involve children in caring for and tending to a garden. I have heard that when you involve children in the care of a garden the same way you involve children in the kitchen while cooking, they are willing and eager to try new foods.

10. Food helps my self esteem. I don't mean that eating makes me feel emotionally better although I do recognize the contentment chocolate can bring to a woman (haha!), but instead that cooking and providing nutritious meals for my family contributes to a great sense of self worth. As moms, many of us hold the responsibility of preparing many if not all of the meals, and this can be a great weight to carry on top of all of the other motherly things we do! I remember in the past just NOT wanting to cook dinner and it mostly stemmed from not knowing what to make that would please my whole family coupled with exhaustion at having little ones running around. Now that my boys are older and a little less demanding (except when it comes to food), and with some great guidelines in place, I have regained great pleasure in cooking and baking again. When I first took things like grains including wheat out of my diet it was hard to know what to eat. Slowly I learned that I could alternate typical flour with almond meal or coconut flour and my baking options expanded.

Homemade birthday cheesecake with almond crust, stevia and blueberry topping. Who says you can't "cheat" and be healthy?

Raw honey and stevia replaced refined sugars, spaghetti squash, zucchini noodles, and sweet potato noodles on my vegetable spiralizer replaced carb laden pastas, almond milk replaced store bought cow's milk, homemade sunflower seed or almond butter for peanut butter, coconut oil for processed cooking oils, fresh vegetables and fruits for unhealthy snacks, etc. The options are really endless and the healthy foods that are available, even in the closest grocery store are plentiful. Now that I am maintaining a higher level of health, I don't suffer so tremendously if I have an occasional cheat. I still love chips, particularly the salt and vinegar variety or an occasional glass of wine, but researching and making the connection between my health symptoms and the foods I eat has been life changing in so many ways. I have freedom that I have never known before. Although I love food, I am no longer a victim of poor dietary choices. I like to think of myself as one of the many voyagers into the new world of sustainable eating.  If it were not for the arduous journey of food allergies when my boys were younger and my own past suffering, I would have never stumbled upon all of the great information about healthy sustenance. But as Maya Angelou says, "When you know better, you do better."


For those who are reading this post and do not know where to begin, I offer some links and tips to help you begin your journey. Clean eating is the first term I ever "googled" and there are so many resources online. We are in the age of information and I find that the Internet and library are great places to go for healthy eating tips and recipes. I was surprised at how many cookbooks for sensitive eating and whole food/clean eating our local library has on hand.

Tips for eating healthy on a budget:
My very part-time job provides the finances for all the food in our house. Eating healthier does cost a bit more money, but for us it was not an option to buy convenience, prepackaged foods any longer. I found that cutting back in other areas of our life helped us save money, for instance not eating out, cutting our entertainment budget (we tend to like to stay home anyway),  hand making Christmas gifts, budgeting and formulating a weekly meal plan. Here are some additional resources:

Turning your unhealthy favorite foods into healthy ones:

How to convince yourself that you really like fruits and vegetables:
For me this was mind over matter and still is! When I first tried coconut water, which is beneficial in so many ways, I really could not stand the taste, yet I had researched all the reasons I should be drinking it to prevent dehyration and so I kept trying it. It was obvious that my body really needed it but my mind just couldn't make the connection at first. After a few days of persistently trying and telling myself that I liked it, I loved it, I needed it, etc, I grew to actually like it! My oldest son saw me do this as well, and he attempted it himself. He found that after about the fifth time of drinking coconut water, he loved it! It's amazing how powerful the mind can be!

Finally, my personal top 5 tips to remember..

1. Eating healthy is not just a diet, it is a lifestyle change. When we tell ourselves that we are dieting, we tend to think about all of the foods we cannot eat, but changing your life to include healthier options is really more about gaining than losing! Keep a list of all of the things you believe you will gain and focus on that list every day, especially the first two weeks when cravings get the best of you.

2. Do not give up. There are really no mistakes in this journey; if you fall off the horse, just get back on. So you caved and gave into that doughnut at work? Be mindful of your lunch choices. New recipe did not turn out? (I get this, it can be frustrating especially if you bought special ingredients for it!) Try a different recipe next time or try the same recipe again. There is no right or wrong way of transforming your health if you are willing to keep trying!

3. Be patient. This is a journey and not a destination (cliche right?!) No one arrives at great health overnight. Our bodies first go through a detoxing period and you may feel worse before you feel better. This is to be expected. Don't give up on vegetables if you end up in the restroom more often. We have to be patient as our bodies adjust to this new healthy way of eating. It was a very long journey to get to where I am and it involved a lot of trial and error. Give yourself time!

4. No one has the perfect solution for you except YOU. Each of us is formulated perfectly unique, our genes, body structures, taste buds, chemistry, etc. The paleo diet might suit one person fine but an all vegan diet is better for the next. When I began learning about candida and healing chronic yeast issues, there was competing information everywhere and it left me with my head spinning! Some said to cut out all sugar including fruit while others said to eat only fruit! If I tried to adopt one specific way of eating, I often failed. So I came up with what worked best for me and my family, picking and choosing a little of each with the help of a nutritionist and alternative doctor. Even today I try things that I believe will be beneficial but due to sensitivities, end up making me bloated. Don't get frustrated if Jane's perfect diet does not work for you. Which leads me to the last tip...

5. Listen to your body, it will provide you with the answers. When I began to adopt a healthier way of eating, becoming more in tune with my body by paying attention to food cravings, symptoms, hunger pains, etc., I found all the wisdom I needed by listening to what it was saying. For instance, before I drank enough water, I never felt thirsty, so I just assumed that my body was getting enough. It wasn't until I realized how dehydrated I was, after drinking 16 ounces of water when I first woke up each morning, that I became more sensitive to the feeling of thirst throughout the day. The more I feed my body what it needs, the more it tells me what is working and what is not. It is easy to ignore our bodies cues, but they are there for a purpose, so listen closely and you will discover what is best for you!

Many blessings for good health and wellness!!

January 27, 2014

Winter Musings

Winter arrives and seems to overstay it's welcome most years, too cold for the things that many find enjoyable. Yet, when your eyes are tuned to the Universe's high definition channel, winter brings opportunity and serenity that goes widely unnoticed during other seasons. Spring with it's cleaning, organizing, planting, and new beginnings. Summer with it's outside activity, parks, pools and travel. Autumn with it's crisp reminder that warm days will soon be gone, bonfires, bike rides and watching the leaves change color. But winter, it gives way to quiet time, reflection and prayer, days spent inside, huddled up close with loved ones sharing a blanket, tea, good books, music, hugs, crackling fires. For people like myself that get lost in the velocity of every day life, winter is the final present waiting to be unwrapped and noticed amid all of the sparkly ones. It is unpretentious and reserved, yet it commands the use of our imagination and master seeking skills to uncover the hidden treasures.
I love the stillness of the morning after the plows have left our cul-de-sac street cleared for the hard working rebounders; serene and nonviolent in my corner of the world. Sometimes there are birds or squirrels meandering about, but mostly there is just me and the vastness of white. I have taken to staring out the back doors, noting the plants that stay strong beneath the heavy drifts of snow, or the ones who slowly succumb to the frigid elements and rest easy until spring's rebirth calls it from it's wintry grave.

These are things I once took for granted, too bitter at the bitterness of winter to admire all it's beauty and grace. This year, the year of gratitude, I welcome the snow, the two-hour delays which allow the mornings to idle instead of hastening us to the bus stop. I like the way my 5-year old finds comfort in the warmth of my arms on the couch and he is content to listen to me read his big brother's chapter books or school me in Super Mario on the Wii.
Winter through a child's eyes will transform the heart. Their small bodies, recirculating heat quickly and efficiently so they can stay face down in the snow for long periods of time, admiring who knows what in the depths of that chilled snow drift and the millions of snow games they can come up with: heart reform. The way the act of throwing powder up into the air so that it clings to their eyelashes and tickles their noses makes them laugh hysterically while I shiver with the camera: a course in deliverance.

I'm surprised to find myself, a loather of cold, so changed by a few days spent outside with my camera surrounded by the magnanimous energy of my children. It may be because I know this season, just like all the others, is fleeting and my attitude about it will shape what direction it takes. It may be because for once in my life I am not afraid of being by myself, and I in fact welcome it as much as I welcome the return of my boys as they walk through the door after school. It may be because for some reason, perhaps with better nutrition, I have not been pulled under by the deep, heavy blanket of seasonal depression and for that I am grateful.

“I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says "Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again.” -Lewis Caroll

Stay warm and safe till spring's renewal, friends.

January 23, 2014

365 Grateful - My year of gratitude

Inspired by a beautiful video I watched at the beginning of January, I decided to use my iPhone to capture a photo each day in 2014, documenting something I am grateful for. It seemed like the obvious choice because I constantly have my phone and often use it to take photos when my DSLR is put away, however I had no idea in 3 short weeks how quickly this simple project would not only change my attitude, but change my outlook on life.
After a long couple months of debilitating illness, feeling hopeful yet frustrated by my condition, the only intention I made for this new year is to continue evolving and reaching towards greater health each day, uncovering optimal wellness through whole, nutritious foods, discovering how to stay balanced in mind, body and spirit and continually growing in my spiritual walk. It is a simple resolution to keep trying, even when I make mistakes. It doesn't have a finish line and only requires an open-minded, positive attitude. Being on a special diet, restricting the foods that are not beneficial to my body has created a jump start in my heath and in my mind. I feel stronger each day, happier and more clear-headed. I am excited to cook and eat foods that fuel my body and my spirit. I experience less emotional ups and downs. I feel confident in myself in ways I have never felt before. 
There are those times in the journey of life where I find myself trudging along in the mud, the future shaky and my spirit weak. Yet it is in those times where I uncover the biggest sense of "alrightness"; this Knowing that all is well because it always has been and always will be. My journey, all the moments of my past, have been helpful to me. The hard ones, where I plod along waiting for the proverbial fog to lift; the easy ones where life seems so effortless; all of those times have led me to now, this very moment of stillness and joy. 
And this year, 2014, I choose to rest my spirit deep in the gift of Gratitude.
I hope if I only learn one lesson in my thirties, it's to love and accept the challenges I am faced with because without them I would certainly take for granted the blessings. It's so easy to seek out what is wrong but what is eternally more rewarding is unearthing the little things that are so right.
When it is freezing outside, in the midst of this crazy polar vortex, it's noticing the way the snow shimmers in the only light for miles around. It's saying thank you for the warm coat, the warm car, the warm body to curl up next to in the heat of the house.

When the home is a mess and everything feels undone and there is so much to do, it's the way he rests in your arms, his weight shifting deep into your curves and he feels safe. He isn't thinking about anything else in that moment except how loved he feels and there is nothing more important than holding him and stroking the soft blonde wisps of hair.
When all your efforts, all the conversations with them about how great vegetables are and how each type of food works in their body and how sugar can overload the system and the preaching and the "just try new things, I bet you'll love them," finally pay off and they devour the meals and say "Mommy you are the best cooker in the world." The millionth "When will dinner be ready?" because they know that cooking is love made visible and they can't wait to dig in and let their bodies get to work. Their palates are daily expanding and the oldest loves spicy foods and sushi and the youngest just realized he loves mushrooms AND tomatoes. This, to me, is more valuable than any diamond in the world.
It's the daily goodness of love and forgiveness. It's saying I am not going to judge so and so for the way she does such and such and I am not going to raise my voice when instead I can take a deep breath and try not to misunderstand.
It's saying thank you to the man who gets up every morning while you stay in your pajamas and braves the winter frost and shovels the driveway and tucks those boys into bed and never fails to cuddle them twice and who knows that he only has twenty something odd more years until retirement and he'll work hard every single day until that final workday comes. It's never letting a day go by where you don't appreciate that kind of love and commitment.
In the day to day, when the kids are crazy and life keeps moving and the bills pile up; when the leaves change colors and then fall, flowers bloom and then the sun turns so hot you sweat off all your makeup; when the TV is up too loud and the milk spills; when the boys are fighting and screaming and then hugging and making up; when you cry out of frustration and giggle at the same silly jokes; when you are let down and lifted up, angry and happy, frightened and excited; when it hurts to laugh but you do any way; when you say I am not going to make the same mistakes that he or she did and decide to feel the feelings and not numb them; when you get up out of bed every morning and live your life with intention and seek and never stop searching for something to be grateful for; when you look closely for just one thing (or how about the One) that makes you say thank you, you will find hundreds of blessings.
"Temporary is my time
Ain't nothin' on this world that's mine
Except the will I found to carry on.
Free is not your right to choose
It's answering what's asked of you
To give the love you find until it's gone."

-The Avett Brothers, Ill with Want

Say it with me: thank you. Those two words can change your life if you let them.