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.

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? 

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?

The Down and Dirty on Clean Eating

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When I started this blog, I did a mini-series called Dirty Little Clean Secrets that to this day are some of my most popular posts. This is amusing because I knew very little about blogging back in 2012 and was just writing what I cared about. What’s even more amusing is that two years later, I haven’t learned much about blogging – except that “dirty little secrets” provides interesting and unsavory search traffic. But I have gained a wealth of knowledge through experience about clean living and eating and I still love to share information to help others.

There are very few conversations that cause me to take a firm stance and they generally fall into one of two categories: faith and food. While I love to talk about my faith, I want to focus on the many, many questions about what I feed my family and why. I realize the food choices that are common for us seem odd to others. Straight away – pause the background music – I want to be clear that I am not telling you what or how to feed your family. Our family’s journey to a healthier lifestyle is ours – you need to be responsible for yours. In fact, our very definition of “healthy” is probably different. But I am telling you to be an informed consumer and make educated decisions and sharing ours.

Our journey to clean eating started when I was pregnant with Emery and has changed and evolved several times. But at the core, my numero uno food rule is to eat real food. One of my favorite quotes on this is by Dr. Alejandro Junger (yes, this same Junger) who says, “The problem is that we aren’t eating real food anymore; we are eating food-like products.”

Right?

I have yet to meet anyone who truly believes processed foods are better than the real deal. But we live in a culture that promotes taste over function and sacrifices nutrients for convenience. Before we started eating a cleaner diet, we were eating under the advice of a well meaning personal trainer who encouraged low fat dairy, artificial sweeteners, fortified grains and diet sodas. Josh and I were both working long hours and many of our food choices were based on convenience. We trusted that this professional knew more about our health than we did. We wised up and cut out the processed grains and started making our own bread. A few months later, we started thinking hard about organic produce. And then looking at where our meats came from.

I know what it’s like to be pressed for time, money and energy and pulled like a Stretch Armstrong between all the new “right” ways to eat. It’s overwhelming to figure out what a clean, healthy diet looks like – I get it. Paleo. Low carb. Vegan. Vegetarian. Organic. Local. Raw. Every supporter claims their way is the right way. Regardless of who is “right,” I promise you that making even small steps away from processed, empty-calorie foods will show a big return on your health. The journey to clean eating and natural living is a journey – it’s a process, trial-and-error, failures and grand successes. It doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing. It’s taking baby steps that turn into bigger steps that eventually lead to a stride.

There are thousands of blogs that do a great job of highlighting the reasons why we should eat unprocessed foods. so why am I even talking about this?

A few reasons. My passion is holistic health. That means I want to help people life their fullest, most satisfying life possible. Eating a clean, unprocessed, organic, locally sourced – whatever you want to call it – is the most important piece of a healthy, natural lifestyle. It doesn’t matter how many vitamins, supplements, fermented foods, non-toxic cleaners, yoga sessions or essential oils you use – if your diet isn’t strong, neither is your health. It’s my goal to help others improve their overall wellness but a strong foundation in good nutrition is necessary.

Secondly, I’ve been there. And it wasn’t until food allergies forced us to examine our diet that we finally made serious, life-long changes. We had to do a dramatic overhaul of our diets – multiple times – and quickly. We were in for it, sink or swim, praying we would swim. Our first dairy allergy diagnosis forced us to make a change but that doesn’t mean it was easy and in hind sight, we made a lot of decisions then that I wouldn’t encourage now. But it’s a process.

Third, I’m not Paleo. Or vegetarian. Or anything. I strive for clean. Unprocessed. Nutrient-dense. I may subscribe to certain aspects of a diet theory but health is not a one-size-fits-all approach. That does not mean I’m perfect or in perfect health (obviously). We eat out. We give in to cravings. We live on a budget. We travel. I have kids who want sugar and junk and treats. I don’t make everything from scratch.

And although our diet is clean, my kitchen is messy. Like, really messy. Don’t stop over unannounced. Does anyone want to do my dishes?

So, what Down and Dirty of Clean Eating topics are we going to talk about?

  • What is a Clean Diet?
  • Making Time
  • Eating on a Budget
  • Eating on the Go
  • Clean Eating for Kids

Guys, I’m ridiculously excited about this.

I want to hear from you! What topics do you want to talk about? What stops you from eating a less-processed, nutrient-dense diet? What tips work for you? Please share!

Heart Stopping – a lesson in stress.

One year – and what a year it has been. One year ago, we found out we were pregnant with a baby we won’t meet this side of heaven. This marked the beginning of a full 12 months of chaos, upheaval, juggling, worrying, planning, celebrating, stretching and growing. Stress.

Stress can be a good thing. I thrive under pressure and a healthy dose of stress keeps me moving forward and focused. But after such a long period of intense, life-changing stress, it’s no longer a flame lit under me but a wildfire consuming my mind and body. Our bodies aren’t meant to endure long periods of adrenaline and eventually things begin to crack under pressure. Worst of all, I’d become so accustomed to feeling overwhelmed and overstretched that I no longer recognized these feels as abnormal or unhealthy. That season of life had become my life.

I couldn’t relax. Quieting my body made the chaos of my mind scream louder. I’d collapse into bed each night mentally drained and exhausted but would lie there for an hour before finally falling asleep, only to wake up several times a night after what I called “anxious dreams.” I’d wake up yelling at the caged dog for peeing on the carpet or calling out to my sound-asleep kids to stop before running into traffic. Until recently, this happened every single night, multiple times a night.

In the mean time, we’ve talked about how my health began to deteriorate. It becomes a game of chicken or the egg – was I ill because of stress or was the stress causing the illness? Truthfully, I have a hormone imbalance that caused the miscarriage. From there on, I truly believe much what I’ve dealt with has directly related to stress or at least greatly magnified.

Everything came to a head last Monday. During my routine – although there is nothing routine about the tribe at KadiFit – workout, my heart went a little berserk and my heart rate sky rocketed to the high 230s. No bueno. I walked around, drank some water, put my arms above my head but nothing brought it down. I felt fine – no pain, headache or dizziness. I made my way to the nearby fire station where they promptly called EMTs for my first – and hopefully last – ever ambulance ride to the emergency room. I was give three doses of a medication that actually paralyzes part of your heart so that the other part can pick up the slack and regulate the beating. In very layman’s terms, of course.

At the emergency room, I was observed for several hours and released with instructions to follow up with my primary care and a cardiologist. Everything looked great but it felt like my heart is beating so hard I can see my chest moving and my chest feels hollow. I go back to the cardiologist and they outfit me with a 48-hour monitor which, thankfully, comes back normal. If my heart is healthy, why did my heart feel like it was going to explode in my chest?

I’ve spent so much time reading, researching, praying and talking to those more educated and wise than I. I had recently gone off of the birth control that had been intended to balance those crazy hormones but was instead wreaking havoc on my body. I started a higher quality multi-vitamin and carefully tracked my iron and protein intake. All these things are good and right but because my house – mentally and physically – hasn’t been in order, I’ve been putting a bandaid on a broken bone.

I am stressed. I am so stressed that I the symptoms are physically manifesting. My hair is falling out. I can’t sleep. Dropping weight. The list goes on and on. I’ve had countless tests run and nothing seems horribly amiss. I am nearly certain I am suffering from adrenal fatigue, a condition that appears after periods of prolonged and intense stress. Adrenals play a roll in several other health conditions, as well.

So what do I do? Well, I’m currently operating under the assumption I have adrenal fatigue and am treating it accordingly. I am being selfish with my time – which isn’t always easy as mothers. I’m forgiving myself for the ways my body has failed me and for feeling like I am somehow responsible for that. I’m talking about it and acknowledging it.

I’m breathing. And sharing with you what little I’ve learned along the way. I’m not an expert on anything (yet) but I want to share what I learn with you. Okay?

Detox baths
The benefits of bathing in epsom salts are two fold – epsom salts work to draw out toxins while also supplementing your fatigued body with much needed magnesium. I like to add Young Living’s frankincense, lavender and/or bergamot. Frankincense is good for the skin and the soul and some research suggests it effects heart rate and stress levels. Meanwhile, the lavender is an adaptogen which are essential to the adrenal system and help during times of stress. Bergamot is citrusy and is good for the skin with an uplifting scent.

Magnesium
I’ve been reading a lot about the role of magnesium in our body processes. From anxiety to allergies and even hormones and arrhythmias – magnesium is necessary for so many functions. I had my magnesium levels checked and, surprise, they’re low. Magnesium also a recommended supplement for those dealing with adrenal fatigue.

Stress Away
I began using Young Living essential oils a few weeks ago and Stress Away is far and away becoming one of my most precious oils. I start each day with a drop on each wrist and the back of my neck. The scent is lightly citrusy without being overly feminine.

Give It Up
I wish this was as simple as taking a supplement or a relaxing bath but this has been the most crucial step for me. Why do I want to hold on to the craziness of the past year? Why do I internalize it? The problems of this world – my world – are not my own. I cannot control the world. After I was discharged from the emergency room, I was terrified that my heart was going to just stop beating. I realized there was no amount of force, not even a mother’s  will, that would keep it going. That’s a scary realization. I serve a God who is the Great Physician, the Creator of All and it is disobedient to assume my worry, my panic, my desire for control will affect His will and plan. And I know that going through this year has given me an amazing testimony.  When I let go and stop trying to carry a worry that was never mine from the start, the journey becomes far less burdened.

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