My daughter thinks she has a boyfriend.

We were driving home from getting her cast removed. Emery’s stick-figure arm looked even more scrawny without the hunk of purple fiberglass that we’d grown so accustomed to seeing – and smelling. It was approaching lunch time so I asked her if she wanted to just skip school that day or if she wanted to try and go in for the afternoon. She insisted that I drop her off at school. And then it happened.

“Hey mama, sometimes – at school – we pretend that (so-and-so) is my boyfriend. Isn’t that just crazy?”

By the goofy smile I spotted in my rearview mirror, I could tell she didn’t think it was crazy. She thought it was pretty awesome.

I’m gripping the steering wheel as my child waiting expectantly for my answer. She still cares about my responses – not just my words but my level of excitement.

I really wanted a pause button so I could Google, “Biblical, supportive, female-empowering response for when you’re 5 year old tells you she has a boyfriend.”

Note: surprise, Google doesn’t have a good result for this query. 

Instead, I smiled and said, “Really? Wow, honey. That’s neat. Is he a nice boy?”

She nodded, smiled and went back to fidgeting with her newly freed arm.

My daughter has a boyfriend.

No.

My daughter thinks she has a boyfriend.

Emery is 5 and also thinks that unicorns are real and have chocolate syrup coursing through their veins. So, she isn’t exactly up on what’s what. But they sit together at lunch and hold hands in the hallway. He brings her gifts of apples and presented her with a camouflaged-printed woven bracelet. Look mama, it even has a clip. 

He’s a nice boy, I’m sure.

This isn’t just about stealing playground kisses (which she has been clearly instructed not to do) or setting perimeters around hand holding (it’s flu season, you know). As a mother to daughters, I worry more about the way she views herself in relation to how others – especially boys – perceive her.

My daughter is beautiful and hilarious and a free spirit. She has no concept of negative body talk or feeling insecure about her appearance. She can’t fully grasp the weight of words from the opposite sex. Because she’s 5 and she shouldn’t.

This boy may be a nice kid. But he doesn’t know just how awesome my daughter is. I don’t care who he is – he simply isn’t good enough for her. No one will be. But soon enough, she’ll be 16 and wanting to ride in cars with boys. And then she’ll be heading off to college with thousands of boys who will want to be her study partner. In her 20s, some well-intentioned, God-fearing boy will want to marry her.

I’ll want to say no every time but won’t because she will be experiencing these things in life for the first time. And parenting is about celebrating those things which give our children joy and nursing their crushed spirits back to life when they experience sorrow.

So I tread lightly. We discuss romantic relationships and their importance for adults. I tell her that her body is her own and that she is beautiful and valued as she is, regardless of what attention she receives. I remind her that it’s her daddy’s job to keep her safe and protected. And I look wide-eyed and impressed at her new piece of fabric jewelry.

Little girl, stop growing up. This mama doesn’t have all the answers yet.

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Do you see that cute little Top Mommy Blogs icon to your right (—–>)? If you would, could you pretty please give the little button below a click? Voting will help others find The Lambent Life and good content coming your way. Xoxo, Liz.

Giving up caffeine: It’s not you, it’s me.

coffee_lambentlifeWe met when I was 18 years old. Fresh faced and ready to explore all that the world had to offer, I ran to you with open arms. They say that college is a time for exploration and experimentation. While some of my college peers tried uppers, downers and round and rounders, I dabbled in flavored lattes and energy drinks. Your bottomless cup was my support during those all-night study sessions at the diner. My 48-count of Red Bull was the only thing there for me when my computer crashed at 2 a.m., wiping my entire Women’s Studies final project just hours before it was due. Through the turmoil of self-discovery and navigating quasi-adult relationships, you were there to lend a comforting lift.

I grew older and wiser and you grew stronger. No longer satisfied with the sickening sweet beverages of my youth, I graduated to the grande triple shot latte. It was more than the temperature of my beverage that warmed my body and stirred my mind. You, caffeine, were the muse to volumes of publications and articles. You sat with me through hours of edits and acted as my meeting and media event side kick. There was no water cooler conversations in our office – only those friendships built during frequent Starbuck’s runs. As time marched on, our relationship evolved from one of convenience to one of necessity.

When I got pregnant, things became a bit awkward between us. Everyone said you weren’t good for me and, truth be told, they were probably right. But I couldn’t just give up on you so easily. We had history. So we met secretly in the diluted cups of half-caff and an afternoon Coca Cola to soothe the nausea.  Childbirth didn’t do much to fix our broken relationship. Taunted by fears of an insomniac infant, you gave me pause. So I mentally packed you away with my expensive lacy bras and turtleneck sweaters, not to be fully enjoyed again until all babies weaned.

Parenting young children brought new life to our friendship. With the whack-a-mole bedtimes and questions of sanity, I was thankful to have you back in my life. Despite the messy house, cranky toddlers and sleepless nights, you were there for me. You saw me at my worst and still shared your mind clearing goodness. You were a key figure in the early years of my motherhood. And I wasn’t alone. As I made new mommy friends, there was as much discussion regarding the location of our next play date as to who would pick up with Dunkin’. We knew each other’s secrets and coffee orders by heart. I traded the fancy (and expensive) Italian beverages for the simple joys of a morning and afternoon cup of coffee. Your predictability was a small comfort in the midst of motherhood’s chaos.

I loved you and was leery of those who doubted your goodness. You were a litmus test to easily determine my compatibility with a potential friend. But as time goes on and I learn more about myself, I began to see a dark side to our friendship. I needed you. At some point, a long history wasn’t enough to ignore how toxic our relationship had become. What once brought me renewed energy and inspiration turned me into an anxious, slightly manic version of my otherwise copacetic self. I hate the way I relied on you to get through the day.

It won’t be a clean break – more of a slow fade – but I’m already feeling the simple pleasure of being less and less addicted to you. I don’t want my mood and abilities to be controlled by a drug (no offense, but that’s what you are). The joy of a caffeine rush simply isn’t worth the racing heart and shaky hands. My heart isn’t pounding hard enough to be visible to others. I have more patience and I’m less on edge. I’m giddy to be exhausted in the evenings and look forward to building a stronger relationship with my other friend – my bed.

I’ve grown and evolved and you’ve stayed the same over the millennia. So really, it’s not you – it’s me. I wish you well and perhaps we’ll cross paths someday during a late night road trip or a particularly vicious migraine. But until then, I bid you adieu.

Why traveling with kids is worth losing my sanity.

There we were.

We were in hour seven of what was supposed to be an eight hour trip. The girls and I had spent the previous several hours sounding out words, making up new lyrics to our favorite songs and played round after round of I Spy. I’ve become pretty comfortable making the drive from North Carolina to Pennsylvania, where all but two of our immediate family members live. We’ve travelled this same stretch of highway since we moved to Georgia so I’m familiar with every grimy gas station bathroom and each of the three Starbucks along the route. When we moved to North Carolina and the trip was cut from a miserable 13 hours to a more manageable eight, the girls and I began making the trip ourselves. Josh has a hard time getting away from work so I needed to become comfortable making the trip alone.

The coloring books had been filled and the books reread from memory. Heavy rainclouds stole any bits of sunlight that may have remained after daylight savings time but we were in good spirits – one more hour to go. I topped yet another of the rolling hills and winding roads that carry us through Southern Pennsylvania when I saw it: miles and miles of red, angry brake lights staring at me through my rain spattered windshield.

A traffic jam. In the middle of the Pennsylvanian countryside.

With no where to go, no where to reroute, the girls and I sat for two hours.

Do you know what’s exciting? Traveling.

Do you know what’s exhausting? Traveling with children.

We sat and whined, sighed and scowled. I prayed with a ferocious intensity that neither girl would have the sudden and immediate need for a bathroom break. An eight hour car trip is manageable. But when that eight hour gets stretched to nine and then 10… that’s enough to make a Momma lose her mind. I may have said some things to those sweet children that aren’t fit to repeat.

But we do it. Many times each year. And it sucks. Yet I do it gladly.

We made the decision to move away from home. Our families live in Western Pennsylvania – some just a stone’s throw apart. The issue of traveling and distance wasn’t bothersome when we were in college or when we moved to Ohio. But when we had children, we all became more concerned with quality time. When we agreed to move farther away and began collecting children, we had to make the decision that where we decided to live had to be worth the distance we were placing between our children and our families.

We chose to move away because it was what was best for us, our careers and our children. Yes, there are aspects of life that would be easier if we were near family but currently the benefit to living where we do is worth the sacrifice of a few miserable hours in the car.

While our families do visit and willingly drop their lives to come and help when we need it, it’s harder for our siblings and extended family to make their way south. It’s not fair to our children and our parents, siblings, cousins and dear friends that they don’t get to see us or our children. But they aren’t the ones who moved. It’s our responsibility to make sure that our children know and have memories with their extended family.

I don’t care if the drive is eight, 10 or 15 hours. We do it because family is important and memories like these aren’t made on Facebook on FaceTime.

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That being said, I’m putting away my suitcase for awhile.

 

Vows.

Weddings are magical. And not just in a fairytale, Cinderella way. It’s pretty amazing how quickly you forget the time and stress and money that goes into planning what is arguably the most important event of your life (no pressure) and the tensions that surround the union of two different, albeit wonderful, families once the beginning notes of Canon in D Major echo through the centuries old church. Can’t we bottle that magic?

We watched Josh’s younger brother and his bride wed this past weekend. I’m not an overly emotional person but weddings turn me into a ball of weepy mush. While most turn and watch the bride as she makes her way down the aisle, I watch the groom. It’s an honor to be privilege to witness such a private moment – the groom seeing and receiving his bride for the first time. It’s a face that beams with love, pride, honor and excitement. An intimate moment for everyone to see - if only they are looking.

Josh had the honor of serving as best man and we spent the long drive to Baltimore discussing the speech he was to deliver at the reception. You see, Josh doesn’t take responsibilities like this lightly. So this conversation was lengthy. He quickly decided he didn’t want to take this as an opportunity to roast his little brother but instead to impart some useful knowledge from the trenches. How do you begin to condense eight years of hard lessons into two minutes or less?

“…For better or for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health…”

We’ve had our betters and worses but much more of the life that is made up in the middle. Not much of the richer but our share of poorer courtesy of those student loans from that small, private liberal arts college degree that I’m clearly putting to good use. And the sickness and health.

I don’t remember many specific emotions from our wedding except utter embarrassment after I nearly passed out. But I distinctly remember exchanging the “in sickness and in health” in our vows. I looked at my new husband, baby-faced and tuxedoed and had the distinct realization that someday we were going to face sickness. Heartbreaking, devastating sickness – cancer, heart attacks, accidents.

I never considered that sickness would sometimes be a quiet force that hung around the corners of marriage. At times it would encompass much more and would become the theme to our marriage, swallowing up any ‘betters’ and any ‘richers’ that may have been. We honored those vows while sitting together on the closet floor of our first apartment while I sobbed through a year’s worth of panic attacks, most certain my world was ending. I remembered those words while laying side by side and watching the sunbeams journey across the bedspread while I waited to miscarry our third child. And in the the mid-night half-smiles as we tag team to clean up after a child vomits yet again – I clean the child, he cleans the bed.

And there is the health. It’s easy to spot the sickness but sometimes the health needs to be sought. Diagnosis and feelings don’t determine health. It’s quality of life. And boy, we have a life of quality and some good substance. Health is in our two amazingly stubborn ninja princesses who will undoubtedly change the world. Health in the answers and healing. Health in the laughter that bubbles uncontrollably at the most inopportune times.

I wish we could get married again with a new appreciation for our vows, for everything they say and everything left unsaid between the words. image-2

Down and Dirty of Clean Eating // Meal Planning

//This is the fourth post in a blog mini-series called “The Down and Dirty of Clean Eating.” To learn more about the DDoCE series, check out the intro post here. Previously, we’ve talked about DDoCE basics and the budget. //

When Josh and I were newly married, one of our favorite things to do together was grocery shop. The epitome of romance, I know. Josh was still building his carrier, I was a senior in college and we were broke. Our living room furniture consisted of a few camping chairs and his grandfather’s old floral-print couch. I didn’t know a lick about cooking but every Friday, we would wander the grocery store for inspiration and spend the evening creating a surprise concoction and share a meal on that ugly polyester couch. Eventually, we had to forfeit our Friday night habits because life needs a bit more preparation than what’s found in the frozen food aisle. Now I like to spend as little time as possible in the grocery store with two children who like to pretend they’re Alaskan huskies and Earth Fare is the Iditarod. Once we meandered. Now we’re all Super Market Sweep.

Anyway. I recall those memories fondly but gladly trade the spontaneity of our grocery store wanderings for the structure meal planning provides our current lifestyle.

For our family, meal planning necessary. When you’re trying to eat a clean diet and dealing with multiple food allergies, it’s not as simple as throwing a pizza in the oven or grabbing take out when evenings get hectic. Additionally, it keeps our budget in check and eliminates wasted food. By spending a few hours planning, shopping and prepping, I feel much less overwhelmed which, in turn, makes everyone’s life a bit less tense. Because if Momma ain’t happy…

For simplicity’s sake, I follow three rules for meal planning:

1. Shop the kitchen. 

2. Group meals to maximize ingredients.

3. Plan everything.

I always start by shopping my pantry and freezer. Because buying in bulk and stocking up on sales are key to eating clean on a budget, it’s important that we actually eat what we buy. This becomes the frame work for meal planning. On a regular grocery trip, I don’t want to buy more much more than fresh produce, meats and some dairy.

I take stock of what’s on hand and then I scour Pinterest or cookbooks for inspiration. I shy away from recipes that have a ton of ingredients and try to group meals together that use the same fresh ingredients. If I plan to make Tex-Mex Rice and Black-Eyed Peas on Monday and it uses fresh spinach, cilantro and avocado, I will plan on making a spinach and eggs for breakfast the next morning and taco salads with cilantro and avocado for dinner. I very rarely use an ingredient in it’s entirety so I’m not going to waste money to have the other half rot in the back of my fridge. You dig? This doesn’t happen naturally do you have to plan.

I try to make my menu and subsequent grocery lists as exhaustive as possible. This means I plan three meals for everyone (except Josh, who typically has lunch meetings) and include snacks, wine, special events and splurges. This keeps me honest and prevents overbuying. It also ensures I don’t have an “oh no!” moment when I realize I forgot an essential ingredient. I go to the grocery store twice a week to make sure produce, herbs and meats are fresh and mark each ingredient on my list as either a Sunday or Wednesday purchase.

I have tried so many ways to organize my meal planning and shopping lists. There isn’t a one size fits all method. I have friends who love apps but I like the pen and paper approach. I tried various online templates but found it easier to just make my own. I bought a cheap 3-ring binder and keep my meal plan, grocery list and any printed recipes together ( I know, I’m probably the only person in Internet Land that still prints things).

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The most helpful thing I added to my grocery planning sheet is a column for the girls’ lunches. While I may throw in some chopped vegetables that were left over from dinner, I typically buy food specifically for them. Having designated food just for lunches makes it easy to mix and match items for added variety.

Like the rest of a clean lifestyle, there is going to be trial and error. I try to be as detailed as possible but I’m not afraid to nix a planned meal because I’m exhausted and I’ve decided it’s Josh’s turn to cook. That’s okay. Considering where we started, I’m thrilled to see progress.

How do you meal plan? Are you a pen and paper or list app kind of family? 

Why parenting never gets easier – and why it’s amazing.

The countless diaper changes, sleepless nights and dirty dishes create a blur of beautiful chaos those early years of parenthood. Add in siblings close in age and you lay your head every night thankful everyone survived another day. The kids get older, you become a bit wiser until eventually one day goes by unnoticed as anything other than unremarkable. And it becomes two and soon a few weeks and then you realize that without the pomp and circumstance that celebrated your entry to parenthood, you’ve entered an entirely new phase that involves noticeably fewer tears from everyone.

I am never so naive to think that I’ve got this parenting thing down. But we seem to have travelled through the survival phase known as babydom and toddlerhood and arrived at the other side: school-aged.

And things become markedly calmer and you think, “This is easy! We could totally have six kids.”

Then you’re kid does something awesome like break her arm in such a way that it’ll require surgery, pins and a full arm cast. Because, you know, God is hilarious and has awesome ways of gently reminding me when I’ve become too big for my britches.

The kids get bigger and so do the problems. I’m not talking strictly about physical injuries. While I’m no longer concerned with the perils of potty training, I’m now facing the challenge of raising two young girls with healthy body images and leading them through the maze of mean girls and self esteem. While this chapter of parenting is typically less physically demanding – although the shuttle service between school carpool and ballet classes and traffic is exhausting – it is a race of emotional and mental endurance. I’ve shifted my energy away from the day-to-day and toward the long task of character-building and emotional development.

They ask Big Life Questions that I usually feel wholly ill-equipped to answer. You must formulate a concise, spur-of-the-moment response when your five year old explains that sometimes she feels like God isn’t close and wonders if I’m sure He really thinks she’s special enough. Or when she confides that she isn’t sure she’s pretty enough. Or if I’m sure there isn’t even one thing that would ever make me stop loving her – what if she steals a rainbow? Because to a five year old, there is nothing worse than stealing a rainbow.

I want to blame the influence of peers and society but truthfully, I’m confident most women struggle with the same questions regardless of our age, social circle or upbringing. The lessons that we instill now – or don’t – will have a lasting effect far into adulthood. Nurturing a sense of value and self-worth, cultivating grace and generosity and taming arrogance and superiority. Are we ever good enough? Interesting enough? Thin enough? Strong enough? That stuff is hard.

When Josh and I decided to have kids, it was a pretty short conversation and a sudden shift from my career-oriented life goals. And my view of parenting was very short-sited and I, embarrassingly, didn’t think what it meant to be a parent past the first year. I never entertained the idea that God may bless us with daughters instead of the enviably less dramatic male option. Instead, He gave us and one then another incredible little female human with tender hearts that need guarded and guided and given a safe place to flourish.

I want them to grow strong – physically and emotionally. I will teach them to shine brightly and boldly. I will show them that vulnerability is not weakness. I will encourage them to embrace difficulties and remain joyous through the challenges.

I miss the simpler days of parenting when snuggles and Momma milk made everything better. But how fortunate am I to be tasked as steward of such precious gifts?

Please, please don’t let me screw them up.

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Worry.

Parenting has a way of amplifying qualities in a person, doesn’t it?

Hi, I’m Liz and I’m a worrier.

Raising two girls, close in age and in the midst of a chaotic life has left me grasping for control. When that isn’t feasible, I get a little crazy.

This isn’t healthy, right? So I’ve been working to let go of what I can’t control. A healthy level of concern is a good thing. Worrying about every worst case scenario is not.

I’ve made a real effort to stop worrying so much about my children’s safety when they are playing outside. I survived years of wandering the farm from sunrise to sunset without seeing a single adult – I want my children to have the same opportunity to experience things without an adult hovering above, narrating and stopping them short of discovery.

This morning, we got a late start and missed church. We decided to take advantage of the gorgeous autumn weather and take the girls to a nearby park with great trails for scooter and bike riding. Josh and I had some reading to do so we settled on nearby bench and set the girls free to explore.

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They played flamingo and spun around in circles. They swung to the moon and raced down the slides. After awhile, Emery called us over to see what she learned. She jumped from a platform and reached her arms up to catch a bar above her head. She pumped her legs and tried to work herself into a chin-up position before losing strength. I was ecstatic to see her pride and accomplishment. She repeated this over and over and I encouraged her to try it again.

She jumped from the platform. Only this time, only her fingers gripped the metal bar and she slipped. She fell to the ground and landed on her elbows and knees. It was evident by the way she laid in the mulch that the landing hadn’t been kind. Josh was standing near and helped her to her feet. The sobs turned to shrieks as he tried to touch her arm. He carefully removed her sweatshirt to inspect the arm and her pain was undeniable.  They made their way to the truck while Blair and I gathered our books and the scooters they had intended to ride. After a few minutes, we concluded this warranted a visit to the Emergency Room.

I thought we were nearing the end of our childhood firsts. No, today we got to experience our child’s first broken bone. A fractured humerus, to be exact. Our sweet, adventurous girl will be sporting a full arm cast for the next six to eight weeks. This means no climbing at recess, no hopscotch in gym class and a hiatus from her beloved ballet class.

How can a momma not feel guilty? In my efforts to not worry and to let her explore, did I fail at my job to protect her? Common sense assures me not but her tear-filled question, “Momma, why did this happen?” breaks my heart.

She has handled this like a champion but my Momma worry is on high alert.

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Farming.

I was raised on a 500 acre dairy farm in Western Pennsylvania. My childhood was spent constructing forts in the hay loft and chasing renegade cows down back country roads. Countless times I returned to the house with one less muck boot after rainstorms turned the pasture into a mud pint. But by the age of 8, I wanted nothing more than to leave the small town to fill the larger britches only found in city living. The arts, culture and community found in cities sing a song that harmonizes with my soul.

But the longer I live out of the country, the more I realize there’s another part of me that’s starving. I suppose this is why I feel most comfortable at the farmer’s markets discussing heirlooms and companion planting with the farmers. Seeing that I’ve spent my adult life between the corporate world and as a stay at home momma, I don’t have any real talent in farming but it’s more familiar to me than discussing family vacations to Disney or the newest gadget.

Real farming is far from the idealistic version Americana portrays. It’s a lot of sweat, swearing and heartache. But it’s genuine. It’s sacrificing the luxury of time and convenience for the sake of growing food and crop. There is no cheating or cutting corners. You are subject to the elements, acts of God and sometimes just dumb luck. I remember winters when the temperatures would drop dangerously low and my father would spend nights in the barn testing faucets to make sure water lines wouldn’t freeze and packing in extra hay around the cows. It makes me proud to be the daughter of a third generation farmer.

Sorry. That was a bit of a tangent, wasn’t it?

By the nature of Josh’s job and our relocations, we’ve been city dwellers since college. Or at least suburban settlers. As we eased into a more natural lifestyle, we wanted to source most of our diets directly from farmers and support those who’s practices we believe in. We started shopping at farmers markets and eventually joined a CSA in Savannah. With our move to Charlotte, we’ve had to rebuild our network of farms and it’s hard. Not everyone has good farming practices and many consumers don’t ask the questions that matter to me. So I was stoked to snag a LivingSocial deal for the seventh Charlotte area Know Your Farms Tour and get a chance to see the farms in person and meet the farmers face to face.

The event included 13 farms split between Saturday and Sunday afternoons. They spanned from far Northwest Charlotte across to the University area so with traffic and travel, we could only squeeze in three farms. But we weren’t left missing out on anything. We visited Wish We Had Acres (a dairy goat and herbal medicine farm), Apple Orchard Farms (beef, pork, eggs, honey – oh, I could go on) and Allee’Bubba Farms (ducks, chickens, vegetables and horseback riding in the most unusual suburban setting) and left feeling nothing less than inspired.

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SONY DSCIMG_2288SONY DSCSONY DSCFarming is hard. But it’s good. I wouldn’t trade my upbringing for a lifetime full of Disney adventures and a part of me worries I’m depriving my children of the goodness that comes with being a farm kid. The world is changing and I want to want less and apply my efforts toward those things that are simple and sustainable.

Will we become farmers? I’m not sure. But homesteading? I may be able to hang.

“When it is understood that one loses joy and happiness in the attempt to possess them, the essence of natural farming will be realized. The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.”
-Masanobu Fukuoka

The Down and Dirty of Clean Eating // The Budget

//This is the third post in a blog mini-series called “The Down and Dirty of Clean Eating.” To learn more about the DDoCE series, check out the intro post here and the DDoCE basics here. Everything I share here is based off my journey in clean eating. Check with your doc before doing anything crazy. //

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Anything in life that is worth doing requires a bit of hard work.

People in the blogosphere will readily tell you that eating a clean, unprocessed, healthy diet costs just the same as the frozen, boxed and processed version. That simply isn’t true. But that doesn’t mean you need to spend the bulk of your income on food. Making small changes will snowball into larger changes and greater benefits.

Maintaining a food budget has been the hardest part of our family’s clean eating journey. Although I have expensive taste, that part of me usually go hungry because I’m a stay at home momma and we have some very particular diets  and we’ve chosen to make our health a priority.

Eating a clean diet is a choice that you have to make and it will require sacrifices in other areas of your life – namely time and money. Most people can’t find a balance between the two and end up falling short on one or both. If you want convenience in your lifestyle and are short on time, it’s going to cost more money. Conversely, If your budget doesn’t have much buffer, you will need to spend more time preparing and planning to be successful. But it is possible.

We were thrown into a cleaner way of eating because of multiple food allergies so we needed a total kitchen overhaul quickly and easily and as a result, our finances took a hit. Convenience and simplicity was most important. For our family, the initial struggle wasn’t adjusting to a new way of eating but instead working to make this new lifestyle fit within our budget.

There are ways to stick to a budget and make a healthy diet work with your current financial situation. Sometimes this means sacrificing what is ideal for what is still good. I will always prefer to buy local, organic and sustainable foods but there are months when someone needs new ballet shoes and unexpected bills arrive and something has to give. This isn’t failing. It’s making decisions on what’s best for your family and selecting an option that is good, even if it isn’t best. Don’t be discouraged.

So, how do I make it work?

Plan meals – and stick to the plan. The easiest way to ensure I stay within budget is smart meal planning. I write down what’s needed for a week’s worth of breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, late night snacks (ahem) – everything. This ensures that I actually use what I buy with little waste and I don’t wander the store to find inspiration for dinner and impulsively buy half of the ingredients for something I hadn’t planned.

Stock the pantry. When coconut oil is on sale, you better bet your bottom I buy several. Yes, it’s more money upfront so only buy things you know you will use. This makes meal planning easier because I can shop my pantry before heading to the store for fresh ingredients.

Trade convenience for quality. Quality foods that are ready to eat or packaged cost a lot. Make food from scratch. Spend a bit of time cooking, baking and portioning foods instead of buying it that way. I spend a few hours each Sunday preparing breakfasts and grab-and-go lunch items like paleo muffins, cubes of cheese, granola, bread, soups and so on.

Buy in season… It’s apple season here in North Carolina. Guess what we’re eating? Lots of apples. It is not strawberry season in North Carolina and we can’t afford to pay $7 for a quart of organic strawberries. So much to my daughters’ displeasure, we are not eating fresh strawberries.

…And stock up. Stock up on fruits and veggies when they’re in season and preserve them. You don’t need to be an incredible homemaker with an impressive root cellar and canning skills. Freeze berries when they’re in season. Most anything can easily be preserved for later use.

Don’t fall for marketing. Forget about “all natural” and even – gasp! – some organic labeling. There is currently no regulation of the use of the phrase “all natural” on products so don’t pay extra for it. Research companies, check labels and make an educated decision.

Buy in bulk. Costco has an impressive selection of organic meats, produce and pantry items with a far lower unit cost. Alternately, talk to a local farmer and consider buying your meats in bulk. You will pay far less per pound for a quarter or half of a cow than you would purchasing meat a la carte.

Shop local. Truly free-range, organic eggs are ridiculously expensive if you’re shopping in a grocery store. Buy them directly from the farmer and they become much more affordable. Check out farmer’s markets and you-pick farms. If your living situation permits it, put in a small garden or make a home for some potted herbs on your windowsill. Nothing is more local than what comes from your own backyard.

Shop online. I know, it seems counterintuitive to my last point. Nut butters, allergy-friendly chocolate chips, specialty seasonings and oils are usually cheaper online than in your local specialty market.

Eating a clean diet doesn’t have to break the bank. But you do need to consider that real, nutrient-dense food will cost more than processed alternatives. I have found that we actually consume less food now than previously because we’re providing our bodies with the calories and nutrients it can actually use. So we are buying less food which helps offset the increase in prices.

Of all this advice, meal planning has been the best tool for keeping our budget modest. If it’s cool with you guys, I’ll talk more about that next time.

How do you keep your real food budget under control?

Shedding.

I’ve talked a lot about the chaos and stress of this past year. Tired of hearing about it? Me too. I’m tired of talking about it. I’m tired of thinking about it. Honestly, I’m tired of healing. It’s exhausting. But I am healing.

I had an appointment with an incredible naturopathic doctor yesterday and we went through my entire medical history. Among other things, we discussed my distrust in my body and myself and the way this manifests in my body. It was enlightening and inspiring.

As I’ve mentioned, my hair has been falling out. After yesterday’s appointment, I’m confident that stress and those wretched little pills known as birth control are the cause for the shedding. I had been working on my stress levels and healing and it was devastating to see my hair continue to shed in clumps, despite my best efforts to stop it. I loathed washing and combing my hair and seeing the fistfuls of hair swirling down the drain. Holding those mounds of hair was a tangible representation of the stress and heartache – literal and figuratively- that this year has brought.

A shift in perspective is all we need.

Shedding. It’s actually a beautiful thing. Discarding the unnecessary, the dead, so you can devote energy toward the new, the healthy. Pruning a vine. You can hold on to the past so tightly and devote all your time and energy toward trying to pretty it up that you miss the beauty in the present. The past will never be a comparable and worthy substitute for the present. I decided that instead of focusing on the volume of hair I was losing, I was going to consider the shedding a cleansing and embrace it. Instead of rehashing the astonishingly crappy circumstances of the past year, I am going to focus on the simple blessings of the present.

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Like a badass haircut.

It’s freeing.