Living in the Moment

Last week, at the Culinary Vegetable Institute, we hosted one of the biggest events that has taken place at CVI to date: a Bocuse d’Or fundraiser dinner supporting team USA. (For those unacquainted, Bocuse d’Or is, “the most prestigious gastronomic competition in the world” and takes place on a biennial basis in Lyon, France.)

Six chefs flew in to prepare a six course dinner, preceded by eight canapés passed during cocktail hour. We were joined by close to eighty guests and two extraordinary culinary legends of honor, Chefs Daniel Boulud and Thomas Keller.

One week later and I’m still struggling to wrap my head around it.

Nine months ago, when I first entered the world of culinary, a friend told me to stop and look around. Take it all in, they said, really try to grasp the big picture of what we’re doing and enjoy it while you can because there will be a point – and it’s coming – when you will be so deep into it you’ll have to consciously pull yourself out for a moment to realize the magic that’s happening around you. And wouldn’t you know… that day came and went and now it’s September 19th, one week and a day after our Bocuse dinner and I’m still processing.

On numerous occasions this week I was asked if the significance of what had taken place and of what I had had the opportunity to be a small part of had sunken in yet. My initial reaction was, of course, but then as the days passed, I realized I had never truly slowed down, paused and fully digested what had transpired. I was very aware that we had been a part of something special but it was surreal.

It’s the nature of the game. No matter how great it is, there’s always something else ahead to prepare for. We rolled into Bocuse off of the heels of a 3 day team building event. We’re already in prep mode for a private event on Thursday and a wedding on Saturday. On it goes. Head down, work hard. Occasionally, play hard too. Learn all that you can, anything and everything. Keep pushing. Onwards and upwards.

And we are fortunate. While we work very hard and put in the occasional 14 hour work day, we also get days off and there is a measure of flexibility in our schedules. We’re surrounded by people who care – about our work and about us – a whole lot. People who are constantly challenging themselves and those around them to push the boundaries of what is into what could be.

Despite everything, it’s easy to get caught up in the daily hustle. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s a natural byproduct of pursuing anything in life. Most of us feel if we’re not constantly in that state of hustle, we’re losing ground. And, often, we are.

I’ve found journaling to be an effective way to not only track my own progress but also record any nuances of the day I don’t want to forget. If you’re diligent with it, journaling can become a built in opportunity to stop and reflect daily, even if only for a few moments. However, even that, if you’re not careful, can turn into another “item on the list” to cross off instead of a tool for reflection.

As I work to consciously increase my own awareness in the moment, I encourage you to do the same. This life has already taken me further and in more directions than I thought it could and I want to be fully present for as much of it as I can.

Passions Change

I think we all have an age that sticks out in our minds for one reason or another. An age that we vividly remember. For me, it was 17.

I thought I had my life figured out at seventeen. Seventeen was the year I graduated high school. This was something I worked very hard to accomplish a year early and in doing so, I learned on a personal level the direct correlation between working hard and the resulting satisfaction that comes from achieving what you’ve set out to achieve, in a way that impacted me greatly. In many respects, you get out of life what you put into it.

Seventeen was the year I left home and moved out of my home state of Michigan to pursue a dream I had been sitting on for four years. At age 13 I had set my sights on becoming a professional jockey. I had very little experience around horses and I lived in a state where horse racing was all but extinct. I spent those in between years reading everything equine related I could get my hands on, researching, sending emails, writing letters, developing connections in a world where I previously had none. I was determined and extremely passionate. Nothing was going to stand in my way and nothing was impossible because, well, 17.

I was told on more than one occasion how fortunate I was. I knew what I wanted to do with my life and I was full steam ahead. I spent the few years after graduation in Ohio, putting in the hours, getting as much experience around horses as possible, both on the ground and in the saddle.

At age 20 I moved to Versailles, Kentucky, right outside of Lexington. I lived with and worked for a very well respected woman who had moved a successful training career off of the track and onto a farm, where she put her knowledge and expertise into creating a Thoroughbred rehab and training facility. I was as green as could be when I started but I progressed quickly and was soon doing a little bit of everything on the farm.

I galloped racehorses in our fields, cleaned stalls, administered daily medications, kept track of and ordered a wide variety of inventory, and, towards the end of my time there, did my best to oversee the 30-35 horses we had, split between our two barns, as well as our small crew. The hours were long, the days were intense but I was prepared to put in my time. What I wasn’t prepared for was the realization that, after six months, the path I was on, the one I had been dreaming about for years, wasn’t one I wanted to pursue anymore.

A short stint in the hospital with a brain bleed due to a fall led to taking some time off to go home and regroup. Once home, I realized how burnt out and unhappy I truly was with the path I was headed down. I still loved the horses – I’ll always love the horses – but I didn’t love the lifestyle and I realized the dream I had been chasing for so long was no longer my dream. I had no regrets but I also had no idea what was next.

Fast forward three+ years and here I am once again, chasing a new passion. While it’s something vastly different from anything I could have ever imagined, it is, in other ways, ironically similiar. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned over the past couple of years is that things change – people, passions, interests, ideas, our likes and dislikes. They’re constantly evolving with us.

Perhaps you haven’t found a real passion yet. On the flip side, you might have many passions and feel you need to choose between them. Maybe you too thought you had your life figured out only to find that reality was very different from the way you thought things were “supposed” to play out. Keep pushing. Eventually, you will find yourself on the other side, stronger and more secure than you ever were before.

Photo Creds: Michelle Demuth-Bibb
(http://www.michelledemuthbibb.com/)

One of my sisters just turned 17. We talk often. She’s entering her last year of high school and I know she feels the pressure to “figure it out”. I hope she knows – and I hope you know – that no matter your age, you don’t need to have it all figured out. In fact, the ability to live and experience life with an open mind, not bound to any one thing but taking the necessary time to experience many different things isn’t always a bad thing. Eventually, if you continue to put yourself out there, you’ll discover things you really truly love and maybe you’ll even decide to pursue them.

Take the Leap

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. That’s a phrase I heard many years ago in a motivational speech and it has replayed in my head over and over again, countless times since.

I’ve now been working at the Culinary Vegetable Institute in Milan, Ohio as a kitchen assistant for almost five months. (Is that even real?! How is that even real??). I’m still pinching myself and I probably will be for a long time. My glass is definitely more than half full but I’m still trying to find my confidence and footing in a professional kitchen. As they say, all good things take time and I know this journey is no different. However, until that confidence is gained, I’ve got to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, with making mistakes, receiving honest feedback… and, truth be told, I’m starting to.

Anyone that has ever begun something new, knows the feeling I’m talking about. You want to be helpful but you’re not entirely sure what the next move is and you’re pretty sure you’re just getting in the way. Push through it. Much of the time, it’s just you overthinking anyway.

I listened to a podcast recently that resonated with me and I want to share a few snippets with you:

“Rejection… it’s just redirection… how often do we compare the behind the scenes crap to other people’s highlight reals and go, oh well, forget it then. You know, they had it and I don’t… [They’re probably] doing exactly what I’m doing and it just worked for them faster. No. You didn’t see the fifteen albums of garbage before they got signed. You don’t see all the work.

Ed Sheeran says, ‘Everybody looks at my work now and goes, Wow, every song you write is amazing. First of all, that’s not true. You don’t hear all the songs I write that don’t get released. When I started writing music it was like this brown sludgy water and I had to stomach how uncomfortable I was when the music wasn’t what I wanted it to be the first, second and forty second time. I had to sit through that feeling.’

Ira Glass says there’s a gap. You have good taste but then your ability to make the thing that you can identify as great is going to take a second. So really, if we could be way kinder to ourselves, maybe there is so much brilliance that we could uncover. Maybe the trick is to make mediocre things and keep making things, seeking out that feedback, and perhaps you’ll be that next brilliant maker. But you might need to give yourself five whole minutes. Maybe that’s okay.” – Cathy Heller, episode 215 on the Creative Pep Talk podcast by Andy J. Miller.

Pretty good stuff, huh?

I want to stress the importance of feedback for a minute. Feedback is integral to growth but it can be a scary thing. If I were to pick out one thing that holds me back and I’m consciously working to change, it’s not fear of feedback itself but more fear of the failure that feedback might reveal. No one wants to be wrong and no one wants to look stupid. I am by far my toughest critic.

I’m fortunate to be in an envrionment where a wrong answer or a mistake is not a condemnation (though not often, I’ve been in situations where it is… it makes true learning very difficult if not impossible). Instead, it’s viewed as a learning opportunity and something that paves the way for future growth. And yet, even with this, sometimes I still hold back… an answer that I’m not certain about, a question that I have but perhaps should know the answer to (or maybe not). Every so often I let the fear of being wrong, of potentially looking stupid slow me down and I shouldn’t. Neither should you.

(Also, if you happen to be in an environment where you spend 8-12 hours a day, 5-6 days a week with the same people, they’re bound to see plenty of your mistakes and listen to loads of your dumb questions anyway so you’ve got nothing to lose by giving it all you’ve got).

One night at work, not long ago, as we were finishing up for the day, almost through with our daily “break down” routine, I was talking about some of my recent mishaps and mistakes with the guys. I was a little down on myself and they knew it. As usual, their advice was spot on.

Keep in mind, they reminded me, that you’re comparing yourself with people who, combined, have over three decades of experience in the industry. They are great at what they do. That experience doesn’t come all at once and the knowledge is acquired over years and years of hard work and research. There are endless concepts to explore but first, you MUST learn how to hold the brush.

Spot on.

Last week I stepped down from my position at Wooden Horse Corporation to devote 100% of my time and energy to this new passion and way of life. It was hard because I loved what I did with the Equicizer and while I’ll still be involved from afar, I was at a crossroads and something had to give.

Summer is coming and things are really picking up at CVI. When you’re working 50-60+ hour weeks at one job and still trying to juggle another, they are both going to suffer. It’s not fair to your employers and it’s not fair to you. So, I made the leap. One down, so many more to go. Bring on the mistakes, the feedback, the opportunity for growth. I’m ready. I’m all in. Let’s do this.


Recent Recipes

In my last post I promised to share with you some of the things I’ve been cooking up recently. Cooking at home serves many purposes for me. It is, first and foremost, educational, but it is also therapeutic and FUN. It gives me the opportunity to work on kitchen skills, try new things and photograph them all… the good, the bad and the ugly. Yes, some of it turns out ugly. It is what it is.

It also supplies me with blog material. It works out well. I get to play around in the kitchen, practice my creative eye with the help of my Canon and then share it all with you on my blog. I love it when passions naturally meld together and perhaps you’ll be inspired to try a new recipe or two yourself!

Basically Croque Monsieur

This classic French sandwich is SO cheesy and if you’re a cheese lover like me, this has your name all over it. This was the perfect compliment to my Saturday afternoon. You might, however, need a quick nap afterwards. You can find the recipe here: https://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/basically-croque-monsieur

Shepard’s Pie

While it’s nothing fancy, if you’re looking for a quick and easy weeknight meal for the family, shepard’s pie fits the bill. Someone mentioned it not long ago and I was curious, so I tried it myself.

You could easily prepare the ingredients for this dish the night before or the morning of and have it ready to pop into the oven when you get home from work. This is a highly customizable dish. You likely already have the ingredients and if you’re missing something, don’t sweat it. A quick google search will provide a plethora of recipes to choose from, but this is the one I used: https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/shepherds-pie-recipe2-1942900

Paleo Gluten-Free Apple Cake

I love dessert. This shouldn’t and likely doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone who knows me. I’ve been baking for as long as I can remember. My first memories in the kitchen involve more than one something sweet. These days when I’m baking for myself, I try to put a healthy spin on it. This cake is a good compromise, it’s delicious and it’s not too bad for you.
https://joyfoodsunshine.com/paleo-apple-cake/

Vanilla Funfetti Birthday Cake with Buttercream Frosting

This cake is sugar. Pure and simple. Sugar, eggs and butter. So many eggs. But it’s also delicious. I made this for a special little girl’s 4th birthday party, hence the overwhelming amount of pink. I was a bit ambitious but I was determined to get my pink four layer funfetti cake. I doubled the recipe and had plenty of extra batter for cupcakes as well. Most of a day and a few mishaps later… voila. https://sugarspunrun.com/funfetti-cake-scratch/

The sprinkles can easily be omitted from this recipe if you prefer. Either way, this cake is addicting and so is the frosting… you’ve been warned.

Carrot Cake Cheesecake Cake

I love cheesecake. It’s one of my favorite desserts. I also love finding ways to incorporate a cheesecake element into other desserts. This carrot cake cheesecake is incredibly rich and so good. https://www.shugarysweets.com/carrot-cake-cheesecake-cake/

Word of caution: there are multiple steps and the cheesecake needs to be made in advance so read over the recipe a few times and game plan accordingly. (Also, don’t forget to refrigerate your cheesecake layer if baking ahead of time… yes, I forgot. Well, I slept through my alarm. And I had to run to the store the next morning so I could bake another one. It happens!)

I’m always game to try something new; send me some of your favorite recipes!

Cooking Up A Storm

Now that I’m pursing a career in the culinary field, I often get asked what my favorite thing to make is. The truth? I don’t have one! (No one is satisfied with that answer.) My favorite thing to make is the thing I haven’t yet made. Yeah, that’s definitely an oxymoron but it’s true.

We all have our go-to’s, those make up the majority of our weekday lunches and dinners. When we exhaust our list of staples, what do we do? We run through them again. My week is usually pretty packed and the meals I make reflect that. They don’t take long to make and they’re pretty simple (I think I’ve said it before, but leftovers are SO underrated).

Baking with Grandma and little sis, Emma (right), circa 2004

The kitchen has always been a therapeutic place for me. Whether I was baking with my grandma’s or concocting my own creations; I was constantly coming up with substitutions for ingredients (like eggs) because we were often short of something integral to a recipe (I write that with a smile on my face – love you, mom!). The kitchen is, in many ways, a safe haven for me. A place where creativity can shine and memories can be made.

Right now, I have the best of both worlds. Technically, thanks to my day job, I work in a kitchen all week long, and I love it, but it’s different than cooking in your own kitchen. It just is. The environment is faster paced and mistakes come at a higher cost. It’s where I go to learn, to push myself out of my comfort zone and to grow. It’s expanding my mind in so many ways, yet, I still crave that quiet time in my own kitchen.

My kitchen is where I go to clear my head and de-stress. From a professional standpoint I’m still very much in the stage where I don’t know what I don’t know and everyone knows it, which is something I am very aware of. I’ve been graced with such a patient, open minded learning environment but that fact also makes me want to try harder. It’s a total blessing to have people investing time and energy into teaching you but it makes me want to show up tenfold in return. At work, I take things very seriously, myself included.

When I have a day or two off sometimes other things take priority but I usually find time to cook up at least one or two new recipes. Those are my favorite ones. So many people get in the rut of making the same meals over and over and over again… year after year after year. If that works for you then keep on keeping on, but it just doesn’t jive with me. There’s so much potential, so many different kinds of food. I actually freak out a little when I think about all of the ingredients I pass in the grocery store that I’ll never notice or get a chance to try.

A few weeks back I took advantage of an extended weekend and immersed myself in the kitchen. I come across a lot of recipes online that I put aside for an opportunity when I can make them, or I’ll see one in Bon Appetit, the monthly magazine I’m subscribed to. More recently, as I continue to learn about different kinds of foods and various cuisines I’ll challenge myself to come up with something I would normally only get from a restaurant or buy from the store, then I’ll do some research and make it. Easy as pie, right? Not always, but it’s a learning experience and that alone makes it rewarding.

These times in the kitchen, by myself, with the music blaring – no where to go and nothing pressing to do – will always be some of my very favorite. On my own, I love to experiment and lost in my own thoughts, I’m free to do just that. The recipes, for now, provide an often needed guide but liberty is always taken and so are lots of photos (because nothing’s better than the chance to combine two of your passions).

I just bought my first chef’s knife and it is SO SHARP. (I’m told – repeatedly – that fingers grow back so there’s not much to worry about.) Honestly, I can’t wait to put it to use. My knife skills are sorely lacking and I’m more than ready to remedy that situation. I look forward to continuing to share my journey and my food, with you, the reader. I regularly share posts and story updates on my adventures in the kitchen (at work and at home) via my Instagram and Facebook pages. Follow along and send me a photo of your latest creation! Check back soon for some of the things I’ve been cooking up recently.


Busy is a state of mind.

Yes, but you are busy, I get it. Just hear me out. Someone I have a lot of respect for recently asked me about my blog. They were curious why I hadn’t posted an update in a while. I kind of brushed it off with the usual “I’ve just been really busy.” (That’s a cope out, by the way). Without missing a beat they replied matter of factly, “Busy is a state of mind.” I didn’t know what to say and I thought about that statement for hours afterwards. I’m still thinking about it. Busy is a state of mind. Is it really? I mean, I am busy… I think…

If it weren’t for the fact that the person who said this to me is one of the busiest people I’ve ever met, I might not have thought much more of it. My mind has replayed my own current daily agenda over and over as I’ve analyzed that statement for days on end and tried to figure out how I could sneak some more time in to my days.

Photo Creds: Michelle Demuth-Bibb of
http://www.michelledemuthbibb.com/

On a weekly basis, between my two jobs, I work on average 4 days that range from 10-14 hours each and an additional 1-2 days with a more typical 8 hour window. On days or evenings that I’m not working I try to catch up on life, spend some time with my horse, cook up some things in the kitchen, work on my blog, do some culinary related studying and relax my brain. I’m busy. Aren’t I? Aren’t you? Aren’t we all??

Busy is a state of mind. The more I thought about that statement the more I came to understand it, in my own way. Let’s stop for a second and think about what “being busy” really means. When someone says they’re “busy” the connotation is usually a negative one.

Don’t agree? How often do you hear someone exclaim how “busy” they are with a pep in their step and a smile on their face? Never. It doesn’t happen. Busy is usually followed by “I can’t” – “I don’t have time” – “I’m just too busy right now”. At one time or another, we’ve all used “busy” as an excuse. Valid or not. The negative association is strong and as such cultivates feelings of anxiousness and stress; a ball and chain type of mentality. It is indeed a state of mind.

How many of us spend a majority of the day thinking about how much we have to do and how little time we have to do it? I bet it’s more than most of us care to admit. From a mental standpoint, we’ve already set ourselves up to fail. Busy is a word that we need to retrain our brains to think about. On top of everything, some are busy just for the sake of busyness (we all know this person). Others feel like they’re living their life on a hamster wheel, in which case perhaps a step back for a moment of re-evaluation is necessary. You have the power to change your life if you’re truly unhappy with it.

Shortly after, I was discussing the subject with a friend. He agreed. Most of us have a lot on our plate, and I’m not taking that fact away from anyone, but the manner in which you approach that fact can really dictate how you live – and how much enjoyment you get out of – your life. How many of us go into a frenzy when we have a list of things that need to be done?

By most standards, yes, I am busy. You are busy. We’re all busy. But maybe it’s not about cramming more hours into the day – that’s impossible, by the way – or cutting corners – which, for me, isn’t and hasn’t ever been an option I can live with anyway.

If we really stop to think, a lot of us can probably come up with at least one way we can make our productive hours, well, more productive. I’m not saying you should always be in the “go gear”; I strongly believe in the importance of giving our bodies and minds a chance to recharge, ideally, on a daily basis… even if it’s just a couple of minutes at the end of a long day. We should, however, make sure that the times we are “on” are put to the best uses possible.

When faced with the dilemma of what to tackle next out of a list of options, I’ve started mentally rating them on a scale of one to five, with one being the most important and five the least. Sometimes laundry takes precedent, other times a book (or bed) does. It’s helped me prioritize and realize what’s the most important in that moment (point in case: sometimes it’s clean clothes, other times it’s a well rested mind). To be fair, that’s dumbing it down a bit but I’ve started using this strategy for almost everything and I’ve found that sometimes, the most trivial things are the ones I need the most help deciding between.

Don’t get me wrong, life is undeniably overwhelming but we all have a choice to make it more or less so. If you can re-wire your brain to think about your life and the responsibilities there-in differently, I really believe it will make a huge difference. You might find that you’re more productive and that you do indeed have some extra time to spend on things you feel you don’t currently have the time for or maybe you’re already at 100% efficiency and you don’t see any changes at all on that front (I think you will).

If nothing else, with time and persistence, a little conscious re-wiring will most certainly improve your mental and emotional well-being. The trickle down impact of which can not be overstated.

Lobster… and More.

Last Thursday I had to face one of the challenges I knew, entering the culinary field, would present itself sooner or later. We had a two day Valentine’s Day dinner event. The menu? Some of our Valentine’s Day favorites.

Course 1 included a Chef’s Garden Salad with crouton, parmesan, shaved ham, carrot, cucumber, nasturtium and dijon emulsion.

Course 2 was a creamy bisque with lobster, carrot, celery, chive, chervil and tarragon.

Course 3 was prime beef new york strip steak with an accompanying veggie plate that consisted of sunchoke purée, carrot, confit potato, brussel sprout, beet, root spinach and amaranth.

Course 4 was called Textures of Chocolate and included a delicious dessert showcase created by visiting Pastry Chef, Melania Castegnaro. Pliable ganache, pistachio mousse, warm chocolate cake, aerated chocolate and chocolate tart made up this final course.

The problem, for me, was the lobster. Forty of them.

If you’ve ever bought live lobster you know what I’m talking about. As a highly empathetic person and an animal lover to boot, I have a hard time killing anything. Let alone a rather large, squirming crustacean. Times forty. I learned that the boiling water method is one way to go about it but it’s arguably more inhumane and drawn out than simply swiftly putting a knife through the creature and carrying on from there. Either way, I struggled with the task but I did it. And I learned how to properly clean and utilize the entire lobster from there. That’s quite a lesson and one I’m grateful for.

Honestly, the entire process really made me think. I’ll be completely transparent, I stuck with rice and veggies for dinner that night. I couldn’t stomach anything more with the knowledge that it only gets harder from here. And we go about it in the most humane, non-wasteful way possible (if you haven’t heard me say that I LOVE my new job, you’ve had your head buried in the sand).

I love how conscious and appreciative the chefs I get to learn from are for the ingredients we use to create our dishes, from the most common ingredients to the most underrated ones. They really care and I think due in part to their awareness, are more grateful for the sacrifice that’s made and more cautious about accruing waste than anyone I’ve ever known. It’s definitely made me more mindful as well.

This, however, leads into a subject that I want to delve into a little deeper.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

What about the rest of the meat we as a population eat? The meat we are not humanely raising and killing ourselves, which is, like, all of it. So many people want to indulge with blind eyes. And for a long time, I’ve been one of them.

A stock in the works for the base of our lobster bisque.

I’m not saying you need to be able to slaughter your own animals to partake guilt free in tonight’s dinner. Not by a long shot. All I’m asking is that you eat with awareness. Eat with the awareness of the sacrifice that was made so that you can have that 12oz steak and with the awareness that there are humane ways to go about it and there are very inhumane ways. Which are you supporting? Consciously or not. Every time you purchase. These are questions I’m now asking myself.

Over the coming months I’m planning to take the plunge and educate myself on the process that is carried out prior to meat being delivered nicely packaged into our grocery stores. Factory farming is something I’ve been wanting to dig into but it’s been something I’ve been putting off learning more about because I know that once I do, I can’t un-do. I feel like a hypocrite.

I do make an effort to buy meat that is organic, grass fed and if possible free range. It doesn’t always happen, it’s not always available, but I’ve been buying organic whenever possible for a while now. Now that I think about it, I’d like to actually learn more about what “organic” “grass fed” and “free range” really mean. It sounds pretty self explanatory but what are the requirements that have to be met in order to be able to label something “grass fed” or “free range”? I’m curious.

I don’t have a problem with eating meat that was humanely raised and euthanized. I do have a problem with supporting an industry that does not abide by those standards. I would never quiz anyone on the sourcing of the meat they’re serving, I’m not that person and as I already said, I don’t always abide by the standards I strive to live by myself. My goal isn’t one of judgement, but rather one of expanding an awareness.

This summer I’m also going to be looking into partaking in a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). Basically, you purchase a “share” from a local farm and get a varying weekly bounty of fruits, vegetables, meat and more directly from the farm you’ve chosen. I’ve done some research already and there are tons of family owned, organic farms near me to choose from. I bet there are some near you as well. You support the local farmer and in return, you get fresh, seasonal, sustainably harvested food. It’s a win/win! If you’re interested in learning more, this article breaks it down nicely.

The Chef’s Garden also offers home delivery with an insanely large supply of fresh vegetables to choose from year round. These are the very same vegetables we use at the Culinary Vegetable Institute and that are used in fine dining establishments around the world. I highly encourage you to check them out. I have never seen or tasted more beautifully delicious vegetables. Their quality is of the very highest. And that’s the truth.

The point of this blog post is not to upset or start controversy but to simply make people think. It took killing nearly forty lobsters to push me to finally acknowledge something that I’ve been avoiding for a long time. To make the decision I need to learn more about an industry that I’ve been pretending doesn’t exist. An industry that makes it so convenient to forget where the food you’re eating even comes from. We can all do our part, as large or small as that is, to make the world a better place to live in. Step one, I believe, is the awareness that we have the power to do so.

New Year, New You?

New Year’s Resolutions. Did you have any? Have you stuck with them? Statistically speaking, according to one poll, 80% of New Year’s resolutions have fallen to the wayside by February… 80%!! Only one month in. That’s tomorrow, by the way. February starts tomorrow. How are your New Year’s resolutions coming along?

I always liked the idea of New Year’s resolutions, maybe for some of the same reasons you do. The idea of a blank slate after what’s often been a long year full of ups and downs as years are prone to have, is refreshing (I’ve noticed that for some reason, the downs seem to stick out more prominently in people’s minds when reflecting on the year that’s passed).

I think the concept offers a mental cleansing for many of us. But it also comes with a heavy load. What happens when February 1st hits and you’ve either not started or not consistently kept up with those New Year’s resolutions? What if you’re part of the 80%?

Perhaps you’re thinking this is a little late in the game to be talking about New Year’s resolutions. After all, by now, you’ve either made them or you haven’t and most likely, you’ve stuck with them or given up until next year. Which is precisely why I wanted to have this discussion now. One month into the New Year.

At this point, clarification might be helpful. It’s important to constantly strive to improve yourself and your life, in whatever ways that be needed. If that manifests itself in your mind in the form of making a resolution, so be it. But don’t set yourself up to fail. Don’t get trapped into the mindset that the New Year is the key to beginning again.

The only “New Year’s resolution” I’ve made this year is one of an open mind and a continuing commitment to self love and acceptance. These are areas I’ve already made progress in but ones that I constantly want to be aware of and work to strengthen. Instead of beating myself up over areas I wish I were further along in, I’m choosing to stop stressing and start doing… with the awareness that the goal might change and the timing might not be right and that has to be okay. All the while, always keeping in mind, it’s never to late to start fresh or to start over. January 1st is just a date on a calendar.

My goals with my health remain the same, to continue working towards balance, listening and learning from my body as I go along. It’s also very important to me that I continue to push myself out of my comfort zone. That’s where growth happens and it’s something that gets easier with practice… and the last year has provided opportunities to practice. I ended 2018 and began 2019 grateful. For life, for health, for you – my friends and my family. I hope you’re able to stop and reflect on how blessed you are too.

What “resolutions” are you making?

Finding Balance

Balance is such a tricky thing. On the one hand, it’s very straightforward. Take a balance scale for example. To achieve a balanced scale two items of equal mass are required. Add or take away from either mass and an immediate unbalancing occurs. Life, however, isn’t so simple. The scale is much larger, the additions and subtractions more subtle, the concept of balance itself much more elusive.

That being said, as I enter my 24th year, I have never been more aware of my own need and desire for balance. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, the last two years of my life have been focused on almost nothing but. My healing journey has been largely a quest to find and maintain balance… physically, mentally and emotionally. It’s not been easy and I’m far from there but I am becoming more aware. For me, that’s a major step.

As I write this I’m simultaneously pondering on the irony. While I’m more aware of what balance means to me (if you haven’t already, defining that for yourself is a good starting point), I’m also just as aware of how far I am from achieving it.

I’m in a season of change, of transition. I’m hustling to juggle two jobs whose lines between part time and full time have become blurred (I’m so grateful for them both). While those jobs are taking up a majority of my time, I still have my horse and other animals that require daily care. I’m doing my best to maintain two blogs while also trying to squeeze in extracurricular learning and activities to get the most out of my work experiences. And amid all of the other normal day to day tasks required of us all, I badly want to re-incorporate a yoga practice but have yet to figure out how… or when.

I’m trying to give myself some room to breathe and unwind each day because I’m finding more often than not, I need that, especially at the end of a long day. I’ve been asking a lot of a body that I’ve been incredibly careful with for two years now and while the reminders are there, it’s responded to my requests better than I could have hoped. I am aware however that what you withdraw, at some point, you must put back in. I’ve learned that, if nothing else. Honestly, it’s been a bit overwhelming but in the best way possible. Perhaps you can relate.

There are lots of people (you are likely one of them) that have just as much if not way more on their plates than I do. For me, learning how to fit all of the puzzle pieces together is a challenge but one that I welcome with open arms. During these transitions in life, I think we need to allow ourselves the space and grace to readjust. How often are we our own toughest taskmaster? Breathe and just flow with it for a while.

A calm has been washing over me when it starts to pile up because I know that I’ll figure it out. I know I’ll find the balance that I’m looking for. Whether in the form of a daily cup of tea, a chapter in a book that’s purely pleasure, or a few minutes in the morning devoted to some stretching and meditation, the opportunities are there for the taking. I guess my hope is that if nothing else, this will remind you to look for those opportunities too but also give yourself the time you need to find them.

How do you find balance?

My Year in Review

As I sit here writing this on the first day of January, 2019 (*cough*… procrastinator… but I have been busy) I’m reflecting on the year that’s passed and the one that’s now upon us. I’m thinking about the places I’ve been blessed enough to travel to, the experiences I’ve had and the beautiful people I have met. And WOW… what a year it has been.

On the health front, more progress was made.

  • I began 2017 with a diagnosis of Adrenal Fatigue and an almost daily battle to just “get through”… to get through the grocery store, the trip to the barn, the anxiety, the day in general. I started a new supplement regime aimed at improving gut health, sleep and energy in appropriate proportions, upped my self-care game on the physical, mental and emotional front and began to heal. Over the last month I retested and learned that my adrenals have significantly improved from one year ago. A welcome surprise and wonderful confirmation that the work I’ve put in over the last year is paying off.

This year I had many different opportunities to travel.

  • In March, I spent a week in Georgia visiting my parents and siblings and I flew down again over Thanksgiving to spend the holiday with them.
  • In May, I traveled to the Maryland / Washington DC area for a business event combined with an afternoon of sightseeing and then went on to New York City to deliver an Equicizer to the personal assistant of Bernadette Peters, who, at the time, was starring in the Broadway show, Hello Dolly. While in New York I got to attend a performance of Hello Dolly, my first Broadway show, and afterwards had the opportunity to tour backstage.
  • As my health improved with the weather, my love of traveling became a desire to do and see even more. I applied for a passport and planned a trip to a place that has been romanticized in my mind since I was a little girl… Prince Edward Island which is situated off of the coast of New Brunswick in Canada. I drove myself 21 1/2 hours, stopping halfway to spend a few days with my family in Massachusetts where we took a day trip up to Boston before I continued on my way.
  • I spent five and a half weeks on Prince Edward Island, traveling the island and exploring it’s beautiful coastline. I even got the chance to spend a day in Nova Scotia driving around the gorgeous countryside. I tried my hand at waitressing and realized I wasn’t half bad. Ultimately, PEI was everything I had dreamed it would be and it allowed me to grow and expand as a person.
  • I took three trips home to Michigan this year. One in the springtime to visit my grandparents, another in the fall where my siblings and I made great memories camping among the sand dunes off of Lake Michigan on the western side of the state (I wonder how often we forget to appreciate the beauty in our own “backyards”?) and a third over Christmas to spend the week with my family.

I had a few personal milestones as well.

  • In July I decided to finally bite the bullet and start that blog that I had been sitting on for a solid year. I wanted a creative space that was my own where I could share what I’ve learned on my journey with others who might be struggling to find their own way through. Which brings me to thank YOU. I hope you know how much I appreciate your support and I look forward to this next year together.
  • This fall I started working on developing healthy recipes for myself and others, which also opened the door for me to work on my photography, a budding passion. In the process, I started to fall in love with real wholesome, nutritious food.
  • I was also able to dabble in the rescue work I love so dearly (aka re-affirmed my title as the crazy cat lady) with the rescue and re-homing of a couple of feral kittens. Then Archie came into my life. My miracle kitten. He’s been a joy and a testament to what a relentless spirit and some TLC can do.

Finally, I made some rather big decisions concerning my future.

  • As we entered fall, I began researching culinary schools and I discovered the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York City. I became fascinated with their commitment to health supportive cooking. I took a trip back to Massachusetts to visit family and while there I took a day trip to Manhattan to tour the school and speak with the Director of Admissions. That trip cemented my desire to attend. Once they release their starting dates for this year, I’ll be applying to their 11 1/2 month fall training program.
  • In December I began to look for a part time job to save up for culinary school and stumbled upon the Culinary Vegetable Institute at The Chef’s Garden in Milan, Ohio. I interviewed for a position as a dishwasher and I’ve been accepted with open arms into a loving new community. I end 2018 blessed with two jobs that I love and a family of friends that continues to grow.

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​When I look back on this year it feels like three condensed into one. Until I stopped to really think about it, I didn’t realize how much I actually got done, how many places I traveled to, and the countless ways I’ve grown as a human being. Of course there were plenty of mistakes and tears along the way but that’s just life. I try to focus on the positive.

2018 was a great year for me. This post allowed me to reflect back on the many adventures and experiences it brought but there is one more point I want to make. Not every year will look this. And you know what? That’s okay. You might have had a stellar year or to the contrary, perhaps it didn’t go quite as planned. Maybe you didn’t get that job and the trip you hoped to take just didn’t come to fruition. Such is life.

By most accounts, 2017 wasn’t my best year. I was virtually forced to put everything on hold as my health finally screamed loud enough to grab my full attention and I decided early on that accepting the cards I had been dealt was the only way through it. It was a process. It was tough. I struggled and I still do. I wondered why and particularly why me but I didn’t give up and in retrospect, I can see now what I couldn’t always in the moment. My struggles strengthened me in ways I’m still not fully aware of and directed my path towards the passions I’m now consumed with. What a blessing 2017 was.

I find it helpful to think of life in terms of growth spurts. Some years you are going to have big, life changing events and opportunities that allow for growth that is obvious to anyone paying attention. Other years will pass more quietly but don’t underestimate the small, subtle growth that is still occurring, even if you’re the only one that can recognize it in the moment.

Healthier Holiday Treats

Christmas is fast approaching! We are less than 2 weeks out and I’m about to buckle down on my holiday baking. This year my naturopath is hosting her first annual Christmas Cookie Exchange geared towards those with food allergies, sensitivities and dietary restrictions of every kind! How BRILLIANT is that. I think it’s awesome and a great way to include those who might otherwise feel left out around the holidays.

I just ran a couple of test batches of the cookies I will be making and gifting this year. I’ve selected Snickerdoodles and Mocha Chocolate Chip Cookies. Snickerdoodles because Christmas and Mocha Chocolate Chip because we all need some chocolate in our lives (do you like how I made that all inclusive? Ok maybe I need some chocolate in my life, at all times…). YUM! The best part? They are both Gluten & Refined Sugar Free, Paleo and Vegan… and they taste awesome!! That’s right, no all purpose flour, butter, eggs, milk, OR white sugar but still delicious.

I use to be a baking machine but when I initially got sick, baking became the least of my worries and was the furthest thing from my mind. When I started feeling better and the urge to bake came back, it became much more challenging to do so because of my newfound dietary restrictions. At first, it was very discouraging. In reality, my experience with and exposure to baking with healthier, alternative ingredients was non-existent and I simply needed a little education on the matter (aka trial and error). 

I’ve tried a variety of recipes from various bloggers over the last year and I’ve struggled to find someone whose recipes could not only suit my ever changing dietary needs but also consistently tasted fantastic (I was a baker and come from a background of sugar and flour, winning combinations in the taste department… I have REALLY high standards with the things I create and refuse to let “healthy” translate to “less than stellar”). If you’re looking for healthier alternatives to your favorite holiday treats, I honestly think I’ve found the perfect girl for you. 

Enter Rachel Connors and her blog, Bakerita. I seriously encourage you to check out Bakerita and the story behind it. I made one of her recipes when I was in Georgia visiting my family over Thanksgiving and was pleasantly surprised to find that the recipe I choose was both delicious AND doable. By that I mean there weren’t any crazy, only going to use once a year ingredients (another pet peeve with health geared recipes… ugh!).

Since nixing refined sugar, I’ve stuck with using pure maple syrup and honey as sweeteners for dessert recipes. I’ve now expanded that to include organic maple sugar and coconut sugar and that opens up the door to things like COOKIES, which really rely on the granulated texture that sugar normally brings to the table. All of the new recipes on Bakerita are gluten, refined sugar and dairy free.

This is a great article on baking with sugar alternatives, if you’d like to learn more. 

Whether you have your own specific dietary restrictions this holiday season, are trying to cook or bake for someone with them or simply want to enjoy food that tastes good and incorporates more health conscious ingredients, you need to know that it is possible and it doesn’t have to be hard.

Last Christmas was an overwhelming one for me on the food front. I knew what I couldn’t eat but I really didn’t have any idea what foods I could eat. By that, I mean I just wasn’t aware of all of the options that are out there – 
in both the sweet and savory departments! – for someone trying to avoid some of the most common ingredients. This year will be a different story for me, and it can be for you too.

Check back soon for a post on pantry staples for health conscious baking!

How To: Homemade Vanilla Extract

We’re already almost through November. Can you believe that?! I realize we’re only a week post Thanksgiving and most people don’t want to start thinking about Christmas yet but it is less than 4 weeks away. If you haven’t already, many of you will soon be starting your Christmas shopping lists and trying to come up with something creative to get those special someones on your list.

I’m a giver by nature and I love Christmas shopping for my family and close friends. It brings me so much joy. I’m the kind of gift giver who may or may not ask for recommendations on things you want but always strives to find a gift that will be extra special and meaningful for everyone on my list. This brings me to last year’s gift which is the subject of today’s post.

Have you figured it out?? (The title is a bit of a giveaway…) That’s right! Last Christmas I decided to make homemade vanilla extract for my family and friends. Let me tell you, it was: So. Much. Fun. From researching and purchasing the vanilla beans to selecting and finding the perfect glass bottles to creating my own little gift bags, it was hands down the most fun I’ve ever had in preparing Christmas gifts. This is coming from a self proclaimed non crafty person.

From my grandmas to my aunts my family loves to bake so I knew this would not only be a meaningful gift because I was making it myself, it would also be a gift that would get used over and over and over again as it would last quite a long time. The coolest part was that I had enough beans to give away bottles of vanilla to a multitude of people.

I’ll outline the process I followed below:

First – the beans! This one requires a little bit of research. There are various types of vanilla beans that you can purchase, depending on the flavor profile you’re interested in creating. Here are the main types of vanilla beans, taken from beanilla.com:

    • Madagascar Vanilla – rich and creamy
    • Mexican Vanilla – bold, dark, smokey
    • Indian Vanilla – full, chocolate
    • Indonesian Vanilla – mild, well balanced
    • Tahitian Vanilla – floral, cherry-chocolate
  • Tonga Vanilla – earthy, fig, raisin

I personally wanted the classic creamy flavor typically found in vanilla (but 10 million times better when made yourself) so I opted for Madagascar Vanilla beans, the most commonly used. I purchased my beans on Ebay (50 count) because I found a good deal, but there are many bean suppliers out there. They can be expensive, so shop around.

Grade A, B or C? While I found that there are some differing opinions on this one, I ended up going with Grade B vanilla beans. Grade A beans are considered gourmet and are ideal for cooking purposes. Grade B beans are generally smaller and drier; some may even come cracked. Grade B beans have a lower moisture content and are considered “extract grade”.

Alcohol – This again is personal preference but I used Vodka for a more neutral flavor. Other options include bourbon, brandy and rum. I didn’t buy top shelf stuff either, the alcohol is simply a solvent used to extract the vanilla flavor from the beans.

Bottles – This is where you can start to get creative. There are many different bottle sizes and shapes that you can choose to store your vanilla extract. The color can be a factor as well. I debated between amber bottles, which are great for light sensitive liquids, and clear glass bottles. I eventually went the clear glass route as I wanted my family and friends to be able to watch the vanilla change colors – to me, that’s part of the fun. I simply recommended that the bottles be stored in a dark, cool place, away from direct sunlight.

I ordered my bottles off of SpecialtyBottles.com but Amazon has a good selection as well. I ended up using a couple of these 8 oz bottles because I had plenty of beans, and I gave those to the avid bakers in my life. For the rest of my giveaways, I went with these 4 oz bottles.

Instructions – There are many different vanilla extract recipes available online. They’re all very similar with slight variations here and there. This was the recipe I used to make my vanilla extract. It’s very straightforward and quite simple. There’s really not much to it; no need to over complicate the process!

I made my vanilla on December 10th, just a couple of weeks before Christmas. It’s recommended you let your vanilla brew (giving it a gentle shake every now and then) for at least 8 weeks. You can make it as far ahead of time as you’d like, but I wanted my family and friends to be able to see the progression as the beans slowly turned the alcohol into a deep amber color, even if it meant they had to wait a little longer to use it.

Labels, Tags & Bags – This is where you can really get creative. Maybe you don’t have a lot of extra time and decide to purchase pre-made gift packaging for your vanilla bottles or perhaps you’d rather not wrap them at all. It’s really personal preference. I ordered some cute labels from Etsy for my vanilla extract bottles. While the labels I ordered appear to no longer be available, Etsy offers many other variations (or if you’re feeling craftier than I was, perhaps you’ll be inspired to create your own!).

I used this online template for my bottle tags. (She’s also included a label template if you prefer to print your own rather than purchasing them.) I then went to my local craft store and purchased a couple of sheets of thick decorative paper which I used to print the tags on, as well as some shiny string to secure the tags around my bottles, with the help of a hole punch.

While I was at the craft store, I bought a roll of material and some ribbons for my gift bags. After I got home I measured my bottles, cut the material down accordingly, grabbed a glue gun and went to work! Once I had created the gift bags, I placed a bottle inside each of them and finished each gift bag off with a beautiful ribbon. Voila!

In conclusion, I’m so glad I decided to bite the bullet and learn how to make homemade vanilla extract and by making a large batch, I was able to gift a bottle to my closest family and friends.

Can you keep a secret? Before I decided to learn how to make vanilla myself, I’d never even given a thought to the fact that anything other than imitation existed… I know… I KNOW! Now that I’ve learned how to make the real stuff, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to use anything but. Store bought vanilla extract is also quite expensive. In the long run, it’s much more cost effective to make your own.

Aside from the heavenly smell of homemade vanilla extract, the flavor is impeccably pure. You’ll thank yourself and every time your family and friends use your thoughtful gift, they’ll thank you too.

Gluten Free – by choice?

I do not have Celiac Disease. I won’t even go so far as to say I’m gluten intolerant. I personally know people who have tested negative for Celiac yet a gluten filled meal will send them running for the bathroom or leave them plagued by various symptoms. They might still indulge from time to time but they know the consequences. Thankfully, I have never experienced a reaction that extreme. For me, it’s more subtle and eating gluten free is a voluntary choice.

Last year’s birthday pancakes made from a gluten free mix.

The question of Celiac inevitably comes up, most often by inquiring friends or waitresses when I venture out. My response in the negative is usually followed by a somewhat quizzical look until I explain that I’ve had some health issues and I just feel better when I don’t eat gluten. I make a conscious effort to surround myself with people who respect my choices even if they may not fully understand them and I’ve been fortunate that my family and close friends have automatically fallen into that category.

I don’t make a big deal out of my dietary choices, in fact, my instinct is to stay as far under the radar as possible with things like that. I’ve never been one that likes to draw attention to myself and declining a piece of pizza is definitely attention grabbing. It’s something I’ve had to work on. You playing small does not help anyone. It prevents you from bringing awareness to areas that need it and potentially helping others who might be in the same boat as you.

I still get uncomfortable from time to time talking about my health issues and my food choices. Many people just don’t understand. Judgement has always been a fear for me but one I’ve made great strides towards overcoming and continue to work on. My blog has created a platform that has allowed me to be more honest and more authentic, with others and with myself.

I stopped eating gluten around April of 2017. Both the D.O. I was seeing at the time as well as my naturopath later on, encouraged it. I was experiencing a lot of nausea and stomach trouble and through my research had learned about gluten and at the minimum, the distress it can cause in your gut. Within days of completely eliminating gluten from my diet, my bloating decreased and my stomach issues improved significantly. Coincidence? Maybe. Worth steering clear of most things gluten? For me? Absolutely.

Before we go any further, let’s break it down…

What is gluten? Taken from the Celiac Disease Foundation, simply put, “Gluten is a general name for the proteins found in wheat… Gluten helps foods maintain their shape, acting as a glue that holds food together.” Wheat, barley and rye are the three main gluten containing grains. Non-gluten containing grains include amaranth, buckwheat, rice (brown, white, wild), millet, quinoa, sorghum and teff.

What foods contain gluten?  – Some common foods that typically contain gluten include pastas, breads, baked goods & desserts, cereals and sauces. Foods that you might not realize contain gluten but likely do include snack bars, chips, bouillon cubes, salad dressings, chili packets & other seasonings, soy sauce and more. Basically, if it’s pre-packaged, you need to check the ingredients. I was blown away with the amount of food stuff that contains gluten. Foods aren’t the only gluten containing items, many beauty products also contain gluten.

Is gluten bad for you? – I don’t think gluten is inherently bad. Our ancestors ate gluten containing grains for centuries but modern technology and farming techniques have ensured that the grains they ate were vastly different from the grains we eat today. This is a great article that goes more in depth.

Like with anything, too much of a good thing can turn bad. Unfortunately, gluten is now added to almost everything we eat and our bodies are on overload. Because gluten containing foods can be hard to digest, it’s often recommended that those with autoimmune conditions, especially conditions such as leaky gut, IBS, Ulcerative Colitis, Crohns, etc. remove gluten from their diet, at least temporarily.

Symptoms of Gluten Sensitivity – There are a wide range of symptoms that can range from stomach issues, nausea, gas, bloating and vomiting to headaches, fatigue, brain fog and joint pain. If you want to learn more, I encourage you to do a quick Google search.

Some additional things to keep in mind:

– Eating gluten free has become so much easier. There are whole sections in the grocery store dedicated to gluten free food stuff, but don’t be fooled. Many gluten free products contain ingredient lists that are ridiculously long and very unhealthy. Aside from gluten free pastas, soy sauce and seasonings, and along with the occasional loaf of gluten free bread, I steer mostly clear of gluten free touting products. I aim for fresh, whole foods instead.

The best salad I’ve ever eaten – spring 2018, Washington DC. Who said gluten free or “healthy” for that matter has to taste bad?!

– Many people think eating out gluten free is difficult and it can be, at first. Once you learn a few tricks of the trade, eating out gluten free will be a breeze. Many restaurants now include gluten free sections or alternatives in their menu. I live in a pretty small town in north central Ohio where gluten free eating is not common. I have not been to a restaurant yet where I can not find something to eat. You might have to modify the menu a little bit (burger with no bun, salad without croutons, an entree with no sauce, etc.) but once you explain your situation, I’ve found most restaurants are very accommodating.

– An at home elimination diet (removing all gluten from your diet for, say, 2 weeks) is a cost effective first step and can be extremely insightful. If you think you may have a gluten intolerance/sensitivity or even Celiac disease and want additional resources and help, talk to you doctor. If they don’t listen, find someone that will.

– I want to add one last point. Aside from gluten, I’ve also removed almost all refined sugar but I think it’s important to emphasize that I don’t view the way I eat as a restrictive diet, I view it as a choice. While I choose to eat gluten free a majority of the time, I will indulge in the occasional gluten containing meal under special circumstances. This might be during a period of travel where an opportunity presents itself to try something that is not readily available back home (such as Maryland crab crakes!). Aside from those occasions, I prefer to eat without.

Those with severe gluten intolerance or Celiac have to eat gluten free. I don’t claim to fall into either of those categories. I eat gluten free most of the time because my body simply feels better without it. Everything in moderation. I enjoy myself and I enjoy my life. For me, as I’ve said before, it’s all about the balance.

More soon on the subject of “labeling” yourself and why that can be a slippery slope. It’s something I’m working to change in my own life and I look forward to sharing more thoughts on it soon. In the mean time, look out for a fun blog in 2 weeks with a gift idea that just might be the perfect fit for those special people on your holiday shopping list! 

Pause and Reflection

I was scrolling through social media this past weekend when a friends post caught my eye. I quickly skimmed over it and kept scrolling. Then I stopped and back tracked. Wow, I thought… I can really relate to this. In a social media crazed world where it seems everyone but you is hitting that next “PR” I loved the reminder this simple message offered.

We’re constantly being faced with all of the things we aren’t doing (good enough, fast enough, “enough enough”) and this message was one to the contrary. It offered an opportunity for REFLECTION. That’s an opportunity that I don’t make time for often enough. When I find myself unhappy or getting too caught up in the hustle of life I try to stop myself and focus my attention to a couple of key areas that for me, either inhibit or encourage the moments of positive reflection that we all need:

SELF TALK – I’ll be the first to admit, I’m extremely hard on myself. I always have been and I probably always will be. I know there are many of you reading who can relate. Don’t get me wrong, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. My own internal “tough talk” has gotten me through many different situations in life, pushed me to reach goals I may not have otherwise reached and made me a better person for it. However, when that internal talk is nothing but “tough” it takes a toll, whether you’re conscious of it or not.

PERSONAL TIMELINES – I have a very forward thinking mind. When I was 13, I had the next decade planned out. How did that go? Ha, unsurprisingly, not exactly as planned… and thank goodness. How could I have possibly known what would make me happy now at that age? I’m not saying some don’t, but I sure didn’t… no matter how confident I was that I did.

Do I still try to nail down the details of everything I do ridiculously far in advance? Yeah, pretty consistently. I’m constantly thinking and planning ahead. But I do so with an acquired awareness that things may not go as planned and that’s ok. It has to be.

Goals will change as they often do. Thinking ahead is a wonderful habit to form but if you’re not careful, on your quest to be the next “best” you’ll forget to pause and appreciate the NOW. The now is all we really have, that’s where life is actually happening.

AWARENESS – When’s the last time you stopped and looked around? How many times do you walk into a place you’ve been countless times and notice something for the very first? Stop and think about that. Awareness can come in many forms. Dealing with health issues has increased my awareness exponentially… especially on an internal level. That can be a good thing or that can be a bad thing, depending on how you allow it to take hold. The combination of being a woman and living/traveling on my own has increased my awareness of my surroundings. Having children and pets increases awareness in yet another way.

Awareness can paralyze you or it can open you up to the world outside. The choice is yours. If you allow yourself to grow from it, then the more aware you are the more prepared you’ll be to recognize the small victories and appreciate them for what they truly are – not in comparison to everyone else – but in respect to the work it took to reach them and how far you have come. Outside recognition is always nice but not all victories are met with cheers and accolades and not all need to be. The personal ones are often the most meaningful.

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It hits me at random times. It could be a song, a smell, a place… I’ll stop and I’ll look around or I’ll pause and I’ll reflect. Old memories, old friends, old goals and dreams will flood in. In those moments I think back to the me of “yesterday”… the me of last month, last year and beyond. I smile and continue on. I am a better person for all that I’ve been through. I’ve grown in so many ways as a daughter, a sister, a friend, a human being.

Take a pause… stop what you’re doing and reflect a moment. Acknowledge the path you’ve tread and the miles you’ve navigated. Allow yourself a moment of peace and appreciation. You’ve come far my friend. Continue on.

 

My Chocolate Addiction

I’m a chocolate girl through and through. In my family, a dessert isn’t a dessert unless it incorporates some aspect of chocolate. I have learned to appreciate fruity pies and other things but when someone says “dessert” my mind automatically conjures up a piece of chocolate cake. Cheesecake. Chocolate cheesecake… if beggars can be choosers.

Growing up, my grandma would hand make beautiful themed cakes for all of the grand kids birthdays (there’s 12 of us). While she’d always incorporate some other flavor into a small section of her elaborate creations for those poor souls who didn’t know the joy of growing up in a chocolate addicted family, when it came to choosing a flavor for the bulk of the cake no questions were asked. It was going to be chocolate. Those cakes remain one of my dearest childhood memories.

When I cut out sugar 14 months ago and a few months later decided to continue with a diet that excluded refined sugar, I quickly realized I would need to get creative. We’re talking crisis mode. Chocolate and sugar often go hand in hand. You’re going to be hard pressed to find chocolate based desserts or even chocolate bars that do not contain added refined sugars unless you make your own. So what was a girl to do? Google! There are tons of recipes online that use refined sugar alternatives and having baked my entire life, a made from scratch solution was just what I was looking for. I was determined to find the perfect recipe before my birthday arrived.

That’s when I discovered Chocolate Covered Katie. She has created an extremely popular healthy baking blog. After a quick glance at her website I knew I had found my girl. Katie’s recipes include healthier alternatives to many of your standard baking ingredients, such as refined sugar. It did not take me long to settle on her Refined Sugar Free Chocolate Cake which features both gluten free and vegan options. I’ve made this cake 3 times now.

Once of the things I love about Katie’s recipes, is that she makes them as customizable as possible. In place of cows milk, I’ve used almond and coconut milk in the past and I opt for coconut oil and a gluten free flour blend. I also use equal parts Hershey’s Natural Unsweetened Cocoa and Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa for a richer chocolate taste.

My taste buds have changed over the last year with the reduction in my sugar consumption and I’ve found that the called for 1/2 cup of maple syrup makes the cake too sweet for me. I reduce it slightly to between 1/4 – 1/2 cup (depending on who will be joining me in consuming… I’m unashamed to admit that I have eaten the entire cake by myself… not in one sitting of course!). I usually double the recipe using (2) 8′ round baking pans and I also add in 1/2 cup dark chocolate baking chunks per layer (so a full cup when doubling the recipe). That’s probably not necessary but again, I love chocolate and, why not?

Katie has many frosting recipes and glazes on her website as well but when I originally made her cake recipe I did not have the correct ingredients for the frosting recipe I had selected, so I found and have continued to use this 5 Minute Vegan Chocolate Frosting instead. I’d love to find a delicious refined sugar free peanut butter frosting recipe. Katie has a slew of them on her website. Mmmmm… that would be a winning combo right there.

When I don’t want an entire cake taunting me from the kitchen, I opt for a single square from chocolate bars that are comprised of at least 88% dark chocolate to cure my cravings. These bars generally have 6 grams of sugar or less per serving. A serving is usually half of the bar. The bars are often broken down into 12 squares so when you reduce the serving size down to 1 square per serving, that’s less than 1 gram of sugar! Not bad and just enough chocolate to give me the fix I’m looking for. Here is one of my favorites. This is another. What’s your “go-to” chocolate?

Healing Starts at Home

We’re surrounded by it. The commercials, the magazines, the relentless ads featuring cure all solutions for every condition under the sun. Often times it involves purchasing one or more products, a slew of supplements or subscribing to some bundle of promises neatly packaged. A healthy person may not give these advertisements a second thought. Some of them even come across as obviously scammy in nature. Under normal circumstances, they might not have drawn your attention either. But when you’re sick and tired of feeling sick and tired, you notice.

If you go so far as to dig deeper into these products you’ll likely find avid supporters who swear by them, say the products pushed them over the hump on their path towards healing and they will never purchase from anywhere else. Then you’ll find customers who will never touch the same product again. Your mind will acknowledge the latter but it’ll keep coming back to the former…what if this is the answer I’ve been searching for… what if…

While there’s nothing wrong with investing into health products or supplements (I take a handful myself and they’ve been instrumental on my own journey), these items do add up and it does get expensive. Then it becomes stressful. I think that sometimes we get so wrapped up in finding “the one solution” – the “answer to our prayers” – that we overlook the place where true healing starts: at home.

Are you getting enough sleep? Are you eating right? Are you consuming mostly unprocessed foods? Are you spending some time outside under the sun each day? Are you meditating? Are you taking time out of your week for some form of yoga or exercise? Are you on good terms with your family, your friends and your coworkers?

I encourage you to create your own checklist and once you have it, quiz yourself on a regular basis. If you find that your daily life is not serving your physical or mental health, then you can take all of the supplements and follow all of the advice that you can get your hands on and you’ll never receive the full benefits. They might help you for a while but sooner or later your body and your mind will rebel. And the climb out will be longer and harder than it was before. This is the truth.

It’s hard, I get it. But no matter what I try, I always come back to the basics… personally, I feel better when I’m in bed by 10pm. I don’t know why that’s such a struggle for me but it is. I love dairy – especially cheese – but I know my body does better without it (all things in moderation). Even though I have to force myself outside on some days, I always, almost immediately, feel better for having done it. Strenuous exercise just isn’t in the cards for me right now but yoga… that I love and that I can do. And as a highly empathetic person, I feel everything… I do my best to pick my spots and pick my people because I know if I put too much on my plate or associate with negative nelly’s, the weight of those things is immobilizing and I’ll be no good to anyone, myself included.

Be gentle with yourself and be kind. But don’t forget to also be honest. If you’re at square one right now, I feel you. I really do. Take a deep breathe and find one thing – just one – that you know has a positive impact on your health (physical or mental) that you can implement immediately. It could be a 15 minute walk during lunch to clear your head and get some fresh air or maybe exchanging the drive thru for a more nourishing lunch that in reality, only takes a quick trip to the store and a couple of minutes each night to put together.

Start there and build… slowly, gradually, setting yourself up for success. Once you’ve done all that you can, add in those supplements for support and research those products you’ve heard so much about if you believe they might really help you. But don’t overlook the healing that starts at home, for that’s where the true healing begins.

Quinoa and Sausage Stuffed Portobellos

I was at the grocery store not long ago, in the vegetable section, selecting some mushrooms to use in dinners for the upcoming week. Sitting right next to the containers of whole and pre-sliced button mushrooms were these beautiful Portobellos and right next to those were some smaller, stuffed mushrooms. They caught my attention but as I bent over to grab some I hesitated. Honestly, they didn’t look all that appetizing in their commercially prepared form but I loved the concept! Generally, when given the option, I prefer to eat things as unprocessed as possible so I thought, why not make my own?

 

I love mushrooms but truth be told, the big Portobellos can be a bit intimidating… at least, they’ve always seemed that way to me. I was quite happy to discover that they’re very easy to work with. If you don’t like mushrooms to begin with, you may not be a fan no matter the size but those of you that do, whether you’ve worked with Portobellos before or not, will love this recipe. Not only are my Quinoa and Sausage Stuffed Portobellos super tasty, they make wonderful leftovers as well.

 

 

I realize sausage is not exactly a “health food” but you can easily substitute ground beef, ground turkey or even more vegetables in place of the ground sausage to opt for a more heart healthy version. I decided to stick with the sausage in my recipe because it’s so flavorful and alleviates any need to add additional seasoning, which may be a factor if you don’t have a lot of extra time.

 

Quinoa is another main competent of this dish and for those not familiar, quinoa is not only high in protein, it contains all nine essential amino acids! One of the few foods that can boast that fact. (What are amino acids? Great question! This article breaks it down in a detailed way that is very easy to understand.) I’m still at the experimental stage with quinoa. On it’s own it can be a bit plain and tasteless but combined with other things? It blends very well, adds a cool texture to the dish and is packed with nutrients, which is why I opted to use it in this recipe.

If you’ve never cooked Portobellos before and haven’t tried quinoa, consider today’s recipe a challenge and a stepping stone! I’m constantly trying to bridge the gap between what I know I’m capable of and the potential that’s just waiting to be tapped into. Cooking is a great way to push yourself out of your comfort zone. Most of the time you’ll be rewarded in the tastiest of ways and you’ll have fun doing it!

Have you made one of my recipes? I’d love to see your pictures!! Use hashtag #IncrediblyYou, tag me on social media (kayla_jarvinen / Instagram or Kayla Jarvinen / Facebook) or send me an email with a photo of your finished product! I’d be honored to get your feedback and I’d love to see your beautiful creations <3 

0 from 0 votes
Quinoa and Sausage Stuffed Portobellos
Prep Time
25 mins
Cook Time
30 mins
Total Time
55 mins
 

Gluten Free / Dairy Free / Refined Sugar Free 

Course: Main Course
Servings: 6
Calories: 333 kcal
Author: Kayla Marie
Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup Red Quinoa, rinsed
  • 1 clove Garlic, minced
  • 1/2 medium Onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 medium Zucchini, cubed
  • 7 bunches Broccoli Florets, chopped
  • 2 tbsp Ghee (or your cooking butter/oil of choice)
  • 1 lb Ground Sausage
  • 6 large Portobello Mushrooms
  • 1 jar Ragu Simply Marinara
Instructions
  1. In a medium saucepan, bring 1 1/2 cups of water to a boil. 

  2. Add rinsed quinoa, cover and reduce to a simmer until all water is absorbed, about 15 minutes.

  3. While the quinoa cooks, cut up your garlic, onion, zucchini and broccoli. 

  4. Heat 1 tbsp. ghee (or your cooking butter/oil of choice) in a large skillet on medium heat.

  5. Add your chopped garlic and onion to the skillet and brown.

  6. Once your garlic and onion are browned, add in your chopped zucchini and broccoli.

  7. While your vegetables are browning, prepare your portobello mushrooms. Cut off the stems and if desired, chop them up and toss inside pan with other vegetables. Scoop out gills with a spoon and discard. 

  8. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

  9. Push veggies to the side of the pan and add 1lb ground sausage. 

  10. Cook meat thoroughly, breaking up big chunks with a wooden spoon as it browns.

  11. Once meat is brown, remove from heat and add cooked quinoa to pan. Combine the veggies, browned meat and cooked quinoa.

  12. Spread a thin layer of the mixture onto the bottom of a 13 x 9 non stick baking dish. 

  13. Brush the outside of the portobello mushrooms with 1 tbsp ghee (or your cooking butter/oil of choice) and place inside the baking dish.

  14. Fill mushroom caps with remaining mixture.

  15. Top with desired amount of marinara sauce.

  16. Bake for 30 minutes until mushrooms caps are thoroughly cooked.

  17. Plate and enjoy!

Recipe Notes

-1 clove of garlic is equivalent to approximately 1 tsp bottled minced garlic

-I only used 4 Portobello Mushrooms when I made this recipe. There was a significant amount of stuffing left over, which I spread along the bottom of the baking dish. If using 6 Portobello Mushrooms like I recommend, you will have enough leftover stuffing to lightly layer the bottom of the baking dish but stuffing ingredients can be increased if more leftover stuffing is desired.

-If you don't have a large enough skillet or pan, you can cook the meat in a separate skillet and combine with the veggies and quinoa at the end.

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

I love hummus. Love to the point that while I’m a total rule abiding date checker with most food items, I refuse to let a single drop of those container’s delectable contents go to waste (and at an average price of $5-$6 per container, really, who can afford to??). Hummus goes great with so many things. And it’s such a versatile snack.

I’ll even use hummus in place of salad dressings on my sandwiches or as a spread atop burgers. It’s also a handy sidekick when you’re trying to get more veggies in at snack time. A tablespoon of creamy hummus can transform any carrot stick, cucumber slice or pepper wedge like you wouldn’t believe… I’m not fooling anyone am I? Alright, well I suppose it’s helpful to like veggies to begin with. Corn chips and pita bread are two more standard hummus go-to’s.

Then we have all of the flavors hummus boasts – Roasted Garlic, Sun Dried Tomato, Mediterranean style, and of course, good old Classic. I even came across *gasp* AVOCADO hummus. Two of my favorite foods combined into one. You bet I’m going to try that one out. The list just keeps on going. There’s a flavor for just about everyone. One of my personal favorites is Roasted Red Pepper and, interested in learning how to make it myself, I set out to create my own hummus recipe.

When I began experimenting with hummus recipes this past spring, one thing I was surprised to learn was how easy it was to make hummus. To my relief, the ingredients were very easy to find. All the die-hard hummus makers are laughing at me now. But seriously, one of my pet peeves with healthy recipes is the amount of strange ingredients you come across that you either can’t find or will likely never use again and I just assumed hummus would be one of those recipes.

It’s not. And a lot of it comes down to personal taste preference. Aside from the Tahini (Sesame Seed Paste), an ingredient you may or may not be familiar with – which, by the way, is worth a Google to learn about the medley of other things it’s awesome with – hummus is very straightforward and the ingredients are easy to find.

The best part? Once you have the ingredients for your favorite hummus recipe, you are all set! Most hummus recipes have a similar base with an assortment of spices in varying amounts and many of those ingredients will last you a long time. If you want to change things up, you can easily experiment and switch up the flavor combo with a couple of tweaks or substitutions.

Aside from the yummy flavors and wide variety of snacks that can go along with hummus, it makes a wonderful side dish for a multitude of occasions, from a delicious after school snack for the kiddos to the perfect center piece for an appetizer party platter. Football season has just gotten underway here in the states and while I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a huge sports fan, I am a huge food fan and I’m looking forward to putting together another platter like the one pictured above, to share with some friends this coming weekend.

With that, I hope you enjoy my Roasted Red Pepper Hummus as much as I do!

What’s your favorite hummus recipe? Have you tried mine? I’d love to see your pictures!!! Use hashtag #IncrediblyYou, tag me on social media (kayla_jarvinen / Instagram or Kayla Jarvinen / Facebook) or send me an email with a photo of your finished product! I’d be honored to get your feedback and I’d love to see your beautiful creations <3 

0 from 0 votes
Roasted Red Pepper Hummus
Prep Time
10 mins
 

Gluten Free / Dairy Free / Vegan

Course: Side Dish, Snack
Servings: 6
Calories: 54 kcal
Author: Kayla Marie
Ingredients
  • 1 15oz Can Chickpeas (Garbanzo Beans), drained, liquid reserved
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp. Chickpea Juice
  • 3 tbsp. Tahini (Sesame Seed Paste)
  • 1 medium Lemon, freshly squeezed
  • 1 medium Clove Garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup Sweet Roasted Peppers, diced
  • 3/4 tsp. Cumin
  • 3/4 tsp. Paprika
  • 1/2-1 tsp. Salt
Garnishes (optional)
  • Olive Oil
  • Garlic, minced
  • Sweet Roasted Peppers, diced
Instructions
  1. Drain chickpeas into a bowl, save and set aside drained liquid.

  2. Rinse chickpeas and remove skins, if desired.

  3. Add chickpeas, 1/4 cup chickpea juice, tahini, lemon juice and garlic to a food processor.

  4. Process on high until well blended. 

  5. Scrape the sides of the food processor and add the sweet roasted peppers, cumin, paprika and salt.

  6. Process on high until creamy. If more liquid is needed, add remaining 2 tbsp. chickpea liquid and process until incorporated.

  7. Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish as desired with olive oil, garlic and diced sweet roasted peppers.

  8. Refrigerate until chilled and serve.

Recipe Notes

-If you're feeling ambitious, dried chickpeas can also be used. 

-While I did not do so, many people take a few extra minutes to remove the skins from the chickpeas to make a creamier hummus. If you peel your chickpeas, less liquid may be required. For more information, here is a great article with some tips for peeling chickpeas!

-1 medium lemon is the equivalent to approximately 2 tablespoons bottled lemon juice.

-1 clove of garlic is equivalent to approximately 1 tsp bottled minced garlic.

 

 

Peanut Butter Banana Protein Smoothie Bowl

I’m SO excited to be at the point where I can finally start sharing recipes with you all!! When I first began seriously considering starting a blog I knew that no matter what, I wanted there to be a recipe section. Growing up I was an avid baker thanks in large part to the influence of my grandma’s, both of whom I spent many hours with in the kitchen whipping up delicious desserts. By the time I was diagnosed with mono I was struggling to gather the energy to simply shower, let alone spend any quality time in the kitchen and when I began experimenting with my diet not long after, finding things to bake that contained ingredients I could eat became a real challenge.

I did get back in the kitchen and I did eventually discover a whole world of really yummy gluten / sugar free desserts (some of which I’ll be sharing with you) but as I cleaned up my diet and discovered the power of real, nourishing foods, I was surprised at the amount of satisfaction I found in preparing them. I fell in love with the art of cooking. Baking is, in many ways, an exact science and while it will always be one of my first loves, in cooking I found the freedom to create.

I launched Incredibly You during my trip to Canada over the summer and due to time constraints and other things, I just wasn’t able to put the prep time and thought into properly launching the recipe section of my website. BUT I did have plenty of time to come up with lots of fun recipes ideas I’m now beginning to work on!!

It didn’t take long to decide what recipe to post first. It was a no brainer really. Every morning I start my day off with a protein shake. I LOVE protein shakes for so many reasons, the top 3 being:

1. They’re filling! and with a balanced combo of protein/fat/carbs, they carry me through the morning until lunch time without the urge to snack.

2. They’re quick and easy to make on the go.

3. They’re the perfect base for a smoothie bowl and SO MUCH FUN to customize!

I used Vivo Life Perform Protein Powder in today’s recipe but any protein powder and flavor will do. That’s totally up to you! Another reason I love this recipe is because I hate unnecessary messes and having to lug out my big old blender for single serving endeavors. If you have a magic bullet or something equivalent, that will do the job just fine!

If you like a thicker base or are looking for a more calorie dense meal replacement or snack option, a whole banana can be used and half of an avocado can be added. Avocado is a great way to up your healthy fats and it takes the delicious creamy factor of the base to another level. (Keep in mind you might need to increase your liquid content if you make these additions.)

Tip: When bananas have reached my desired level of ripeness (I don’t like them mushy!) I cut them into chunks and freeze them for my protein shakes and smoothies. I find this also reduces the amount of ice that is needed. Fresh banana can be used, but you may find more ice is necessary.

I’m sure you’ve heard the often repeated mantra that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Whoa, whoa, whoa. I can already hear my no breakfasters groaning 😉 Today’s recipe can be used in a variety of ways. If you’re like me and wake up starving, it’s a great way to begin your day. If you’re not, that’s ok too. It also makes a wonderful pre/post workout snack or (again, if you’re like me) a “just because you need a snack” snack. It’s highly customizable and can easily be used as a meal replacement if desired. For all of my fellow peanut butter / banana addicts, this one’s for you!

Have you made one of my recipes? I’d love to see your pictures!! Use hashtag #IncrediblyYou, tag me on social media (kayla_jarvinen / Instagram or Kayla Jarvinen / Facebook) or send me an email with a photo of your finished product! I’d be honored to get your feedback and I’d love to see your beautiful creations <3

0 from 0 votes
Peanut Butter Banana Protein Smoothie Bowl
Prep Time
5 mins
Total Time
5 mins
 

Gluten Free / Dairy Free / Refined Sugar Free / Vegan

Course: Breakfast, Meal Replacement, Snack
Servings: 1
Author: Kayla Marie
Ingredients
Protein Smoothie Base
  • 2/3 cup Nut Milk*
  • 1/2 cup Crushed Ice
  • 1 scoop Protein Powder**
  • 1 tbsp. Peanut Butter
  • 1/2-1 Banana, frozen
Optional Toppings
  • Chopped Pecans
  • Chopped Walnuts
  • Sliced Banana
  • Cacao Nibs
  • Coconut Flakes
  • Flaxseed
  • Peanut Butter Drizzle
Instructions
  1. Combine all of the ingredients for the protein smoothie base in a blender and blend on high speed for 1 minute or until thoroughly combined.

  2. Transfer protein smoothie base to a bowl or mug.

  3. Add desired toppings.

  4. Enjoy!!!

Recipe Notes

*I used homemade cashew milk in this recipe but any store bought nut milk will do. I have not made this recipe with dairy milk. Nut milk is generally thicker and creamier than cow's milk so keep this in mind if you opt for the latter; you may need to reduce the liquid to 1/2 cup or less depending on the contents and desired thickness of your smoothie base.

**Protein Powder recommendations: I discovered Vivo Life’s Perform Protein Powder last spring and I’ve been obsessed with it ever since. With a variety of flavors like Raw Cacao, Madagascan Vanilla (used in today’s recipe), Salted Maca Caramel and Acai & Blueberry the flavor combos are endless. Garden of Life Meal Replacement is another personal favorite and is a less expensive but still nutrient rich protein powder that you can find on Amazon. If you don’t already have a favorite, both of these are great, clean options!

First things first…

This week I was looking forward to sharing with you all what I hope is the first of many recipe posts. I’ve been working on a couple of different yummy creations I’m excited to put out there but I’m afraid the first of those will have to wait until next week. The time and energy I had allocated this last week to finish up my first recipe post was unexpectedly redirected to another cause. I’m sorry, not sorry if you know what I mean 😉 Well, let me explain first.

Those of you who know me are almost certainly aware that I’m a big animal lover. I always have been and I’m sure I always will be. (*Queue my body’s distress signal*… sorry allergies, this is one I’m not willing to give up!) I currently play mom to a retired racehorse, a very particular Tortie and a painted turtle, who, after a year, I learned was not a male, but in fact, a female… that’s a mind blowing story for another time. All of them are rescues in one way or another.

(Day 1) He’s very gremlin-ish right now but I’m positive there’s a handsome face hiding under all that gunk.

I currently live in the country and at least a couple of times a year, a stray cat or kitten will show up, sometimes pregnant. While some of them have stuck around to join the little posse of barn cats, I have re-homed a good majority of them after attending to whatever small issues they may have, usually home remedy style. Though they generally find me, I will take on a project now and then if one happens my way through social media or an acquaintance.

Such was the case on Sunday night when I received a facebook message about a kitten that had been found in the middle of the road about a half hour away. Unfortunately, the family’s schedule did not allow room to take on a 5 week old kitten with an eye infection who needed care. Assuming I could treat the eye infection on my own and knowing the flexibility of my schedule meshed well with taking on a young kitten, I agreed to come and get him.

After picking up some eye ointment and a couple of other small supplies, I drove out to collect him the next morning. I am not a hard core rescuer and I was not prepared for the sight that greeted me when I arrived. I found a small gray kitten curled up in a ball tucked into the corner of a breezeway attached to the house. He broke out in a deafening purr when I reached down to pick him up but when I turned him over, my stomach flipped. His eyes were swollen shut and covered in gunk. I was horrified to see fleas crawling over his face and running up and down his belly.  It was obvious he had an upper respiratory infection (which likely led to the conjunctivitis) and his bony but bloated body screamed worms.

With a knot in my stomach, I gently placed him in my car and headed home. The first order of business was to get rid of the fleas. I gave him a couple coconut oil / dawn dish soap baths (that combo works like a charm) and got him into the vet a couple of hours later. We are on day 4 of antibiotics with another check-up scheduled for this afternoon.

His eyes are still swollen and icky looking but warm compresses and eye ointment are helping and he can now open them both halfway. He’s eating like a champ and we FINALLY had a bowel movement… yay!! Time will tell if he’ll regain full eyesight and everyday I’m hoping the sneezing will lessen and the congestion will start to clear.

He can’t see very well and because of his congestion, he probably can’t smell much either but that hasn’t slowed him down. He’s a sweetheart, full of life and spunk in spite of his handicaps and sick quality of life, very likely the only kind he’s ever known. Each time his little face looks up towards my voice, my heart melts. He’s a gem and a constant reminder to me that the bad days will come and I don’t need to apologize for them, but if I can simply remember to do the best I can with the cards I’m dealt and keep that attitude of gratitude, everything will be alright.

So, my friends, after a couple of nights with little sleep, a sick kitten on my mind and my body warning me to tread more slowly, I realized the recipe post would have to wait because the little man couldn’t.

I can’t wait to share with you some of my creative concoctions. I’m hoping you’ll enjoy them as much as I do 🙂 but, first things first…

For updates on “Archie” including videos of his deafeningly sweet purr and wickedly fast moves you can follow along via Facebook and Instagram

Learning to Love the Process

I’m no stranger to working out. I’ve been exercising and coming up with workout routines for myself on and off for the past 10 years. I haven’t always been the most consistent with it but it’s definitely been a part of my life. Whether in the form of gym sessions or home based training sessions, I’ve amassed a nice collection of DVDs and youtube workouts, weights, resistant bands and other exercise related accessories over the years. I’ve dabbled in quite a few different areas from running, kickboxing and HIIT training to yoga. For the most part, exercising has been something I enjoy doing.

A morning spent cleaning the barn? While not your conventional workout, it counts in my book!

While I use to find it relatively easy to push myself in my workouts, my nutritional support had often been lacking. The research and dietary changes I’ve implemented in the last eighteen months has changed that but it’s been over two years since I’ve had any sort of consistent workout routine. Since the end of 2016, my health has been the dictating factor. My body simply hasn’t felt well enough to even think about doing any kind of semi-strenuous exercising… until recently. My health has improved significantly in the past couple of months and it’s had me thinking more and more about the idea of starting up an exercise routine again. So in true Kayla fashion, I wasted no time in signing up for a free month long trial of the fitness app, Aaptiv. I woke up the next morning, full of energy (well, mental energy at least) and excited to jump into my first 40 minute workout session – Abs, Booty and Cardio.

Things started off well but by the halfway point my heart was pounding out of my chest and I could feel my breakfast coming back up (ewww, sorry… honesty can be brutal!). I couldn’t get enough air. I tried breaking for longer and longer periods of time between each set of exercises but I just wasn’t recovering and I couldn’t catch my breath. I pushed on a little more and finally, with 8 minutes left to go, detached myself from my pride and quit. Pushing any further was just downright counterproductive. My body was spent.

I sat down for a minute before heading to the bathroom for a shower. I splashed some water on my face and realizing how shaky and lightheaded I actually was, sat down on top of the toilet to give my body another chance to recover. All at once the walls came crashing down and I was consumed by an overwhelming feeling of failure as the tears flowed. I sat on the toilet crying my eyes out for 20 minutes. They just kept coming. For eighteen months I have felt betrayed by my body and longed to feel strong again, to feel physically adequate.

“I thought I was starting off easy…” I texted my mom. “I’ve worked out over the years but never had the nutritional element to support it. Now I have that down and can’t do the cardio ugh I don’t know why I feel so discouraged. My brain wants to do more than my body can.”

In true mom fashion, she quickly replied with some sound advice: “Don’t do cardio stuff to start, you have been super busy. Start with more yoga; I’ll send you a link to a girl I like. You have come leaps and bounds compared to where you were, so look at all the ground you have covered versus the ground still to go. You will build up to it, you’re doing great,” she said.

“Thanks Mom,” I replied, “that’d be great. I haven’t even been doing yoga consistently and haven’t been getting enough sleep, my own fault. I don’t know why I thought high intensity would be best to start off with (insert laughing emojis). Laughing now. Pity party closing down. Love you!”

And just like that I realized how silly I had been and how right she was. Six months ago I had struggled to get through a grocery store. Since then I had planned and executed a six week trip to Canada, driving 21 1/2 hours each way on my own. I had undertaken a part time job as a bartender/waitress with no prior experience and had done so successfully. I had started riding horses again. I made new friends in a new country and pushed my body farther than I thought I could, farther than I probably should have. Through it all my body had been resilient, offering me more lee-way than it had in a long time. Why was I punishing it in return?

A necklace I purchased for one of my sisters serves as a great reminder for us all.

Why was I viewing my body as weak? Was it because I felt it didn’t live up to what I thought constituted as “strong?” Who’s definition of strong was I using? It wasn’t serving me well. Strength is not limited to what you see on the outside, I realized, as I thought about my journey over the past year and a half. In fact, I’m stronger now than I’ve ever been in so many ways.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned over the last couple of years is that it’s often the embracing, the letting go of whatever frustrations or expectations you feel like you’re just not meeting, that opens up the door to growth you may not have even realized was possible. It’s such an incredibly humbling but beautifully liberating experience. Maybe I’m just different (that’s entirely possible ha ha), or maybe I’m finally at a point in my life where I’m more open to receiving the lessons that so often present themselves if we’re only receptive, but these realizations seem to come frequently these days and I’m so grateful for them. I have every intention of building my body back up to what I know it can be. I still want those abs and the tight glutes too, and I’m confident I’ll get there. It probably won’t be tomorrow or next week or next month but it will be with eyes and ears open to what my body is telling me. Slow and steady. Learning to love the process.

Next week: NEW RECIPE POST!

My Journey Through Health and Healing: Adrenal Fatigue

This week brings us to the last post in the five part overview of my own recent health journey. I appreciate everyone that has followed along and hope that that the telling of my story has offered some guidance and hope to those going through similar things and perhaps some insight for anyone on the outside looking in. Over the next few weeks I look forward to delving deeper into some of the topics that were touched on and much more.

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While I felt much improved after my candida diagnosis and subsequent treatment, things still weren’t great. By the time I went home to Michigan again for Thanksgiving I was seemingly relapsing with more symptoms. Christmas was worse. Once the downhill slide started, as with everything else I had dealt with, it seemed to progress very quickly. For a couple of months I couldn’t do much of anything. Walking through the grocery store was exhausting. I once again needed help looking after my animals. Trips to the barn were brief. I could not get my body out of bed in the morning and everything was overstimulating. The anxiety I was again experiencing was palpable. Night sweats became common, a sure sign that my hormones were out of whack.  After another consultation and test with my naturopath, we confirmed I was suffering from adrenal fatigue.

I think it’s important to briefly explain what adrenal fatigue actually is. Your adrenal glands sit right above your kidneys and they control a variety of hormones. One of the hormones indicative of adrenal function is cortisol. When your body perceives danger (real or “imaginary”) your cortisol levels rise and your body goes into fight or flight mode. Once the danger has passed, your cortisol levels return to normal. If your body is under a constant perceived threat (which could be anything from major relationship problems to the death of a loved one to physical stressors) your cortisol levels are kept at a constantly high level and the adrenal’s ability to regulate other hormones starts to suffer which can set off a chain reaction.

In the morning, your cortisol levels for the day are supposed to be at their highest. That’s what wakes you up and gets you out of bed every morning. From there, cortisol will slowly taper off until nighttime hits and melatonin (your sleep hormone) begins to rise. For someone with adrenal fatigue, that pattern can be seriously skewed. My own cortisol level was not only at its lowest for the day in the morning, it was below the normal range completely. From there, my cortisol spiked around noon, dropped significantly again by late afternoon and then once again started to rise in the evening. I was, literally, riding a wave. My DHEA levels, another hormone produced by the adrenals, was also extremely low.

As with everything else since finding my naturopath, I choose to go the more holistic route with treatment which was basically a combination of supplements and mindfulness practices. I began making a concentrated effort to get to bed by 10pm (I’ll admit, it’s still a struggle), my living and work situation allowed me to sleep in past the point most would be able to which gave my body some of the extra rest it needed, I continued to eat as clean as possible in an effort to reduce the effort my body was required to put forth to digest, and, perhaps the biggest of all was my mental shift, allowing myself to just be. I was so tired of being tired and unwell.

For someone who hates to draw attention and make a big deal out of anything that has to do with oneself, I constantly felt like my body was forcing me to do nothing but that – out of pure necessity. In retrospect, I realize that others did not view me anything like the inconvenience I was sometimes sure I was, but that doesn’t make it any less stressful in the moment. I know that many can relate. You have to make a concentrated effort not to let your mind become your own worst enemy. Your family and friends love you, they want to see you well again and often feel just as helpless themselves. We all need to give ourselves a little break now and then.

Around April of 2018, I started a stronger supplement called HPA Axis Daytime Maintenance, which made a huge difference in my energy levels throughout the day. I started venturing out, doing more things little by little and realized that I could, in moderation. As I improved, the night sweats did as well until they disappeared completely. The palpitations now come only as a warning when I’ve done too much – pushed too hard – instead of as a daily occurrence. I had had so many plans before I started to feel unwell at the end of 2016 and doing things again started to seem possible. I got the urge to travel and moved forward with arrangements, prepared to apply the brakes as soon as my body began showing signs of overload. The timing seemed right to start that blog I had been thinking about for so long, to share my journey thus far and everything I’ve learned with others. To start a conversation, maybe plant an idea or two.

And here I am. For six weeks this summer I enjoyed island life in Canada on Prince Edward Island off the coast of New Brunswick (reference the Anne of Green Gables books for those familiar). I’m so much better in so many ways but my body continues to remind me not to get lackadaisical, there’s still plenty of room for improvement. In a continued effort to heal my gut, I recently took a food sensitivity test to try and more easily identify the foods that could be causing an inflammatory response in my body. My next focus will be to take out those foods for a period of time and then slowly reintroduce them. I’ll also be retesting soon to see where my levels are with my adrenals. For now, I’m enjoying my ventures into new territory and the elusive, ever changing quest to find – and keep – the balance.

Next week: Learning to Love the Process 

My Journey Through Health and Healing: Candida Overgrowth

One of the big things I’ve learned so far on my journey is that the ability to pay attention to what you’re feeling and experiencing, in both your mind and body, can not be overstated in its importance. I am grateful for the advancement of medicine and doctors, both of which continue to help so many, but those things should not be used as an excuse to tune out everything your body is telling you on a daily basis. I believe this deeply and have seen example after example to prove this true along my own health journey.

I’m also a big proponent of doing your own research and educating yourself as much as possible on what is or could potentially be going on, especially if you are seeing doctor after doctor with little results, as was my case. Naturally curious by nature, my need to know more and understand as much as I could as to what was happening to my body was only exacerbated by the lack of willingness I found in many of the physicians I saw, to get to the root cause of my problems.

We’ve likely all participated in the “Google symptom search” where the worse case scenarios appear and try to convince us that we’re on our way out. You know that’s going to happen so acknowledge it and dig deeper; in my experience, that is where the gold mine of information lies. Not necessarily among the top 3 search results or even on the first page, but somewhere among the thousands of other websites and forums that are out there. If you truly want answers and are willing to put in the time to find them, you will be amazed by how much you can learn.

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This “Candida Handout” provided by my naturopath was very helpful for breaking down and reminding me which foods I could eat and which foods I needed to stay away from for the ensuing months.

After the initial hour and a half consultation with my naturopath, a follow up “Report of Findings” visit was next (this was all included in the initial $250 consult fee I referenced in my last post). Through my own research, reading and familiarity with the symptoms I was experiencing, I had a sneaking suspicion that I might be dealing with an intestinal candida overgrowth. After discussing this with my naturopath, I decided, through her recommendation, to do a stool test which would measure the levels of bacteria in my gut, as well as the yeast levels and check for parasites. (Comprehensive Parasitology, stool, x3 via Doctor’s Data).

The test was very easy to conduct (albeit a little gross) and my results came back within a couple of weeks. It showed that I had some out of wack gut bacteria – not enough of the beneficial bacteria and too much of the commensal or imbalanced, ones. The test also showed that out of “none”, “few”, “moderate” and “many”, I had a moderate amount of excessive yeast found in my gut. To be clear, we all have a small amount of yeast in our gut. That’s normal. The problem occurs when an overgrowth happens. Like with most things, there are usually multiple contributing factors. My immune system had already been weakened considerably by the mono and resulting issues that required the use of steroids and other medications.

By the time my naturopath gave me a Candida diet handout, I was, thankfully, already familiar with the sort of outline I would need to follow should my suspicions be confirmed. Unfortunately, candida feeds on sugar, which means adherence to a strictly sugar free diet is necessary to kill it. This includes doing away with not only refined sugars, but also taking out high sugar fruits and vegetables and limiting the low sugar ones. Along with this, I removed all cheeses and other “moldy” or mold susceptible foods such as mushrooms, peanuts (and peanut butter), as well as any yeast containing foods. Having already been gluten free for some time by this point, this last item was fairly easy to avoid since I was largely already doing so. It also meant no ice cream! I’m sure glad I got my fix earlier in the summer but realized how much worse I had probably been making my symptoms without even knowing it.

An arsenal of strategically chosen supplements was a critical part of the mission to help restore the balance in my body.

I adhered strictly to the supplement and dietary recommendations my naturopath had given me for the next two months. By the time I retested for the candida and made an appointment to see my naturopath again, I had been on the diet for around 4 months, twice as long as was necessary. My stomach issues had largely (although not completely) resolved and I was feeling so much better in so many ways. Mercifully, my test results reflected that. The candida no longer appeared to be an issue and the bacteria in my gut were at healthy levels again.

Now the fun part: re-introducing some of the foods I loved (oh how I missed the aforementioned cheese, peanut butter and mushrooms and looked forward to adding them back into my diet – not at the same time… or together, ewww!). This was done one food at a time. I successfully reintroduced everything, except the sugar. By this time I had read and learned about the havoc our gross over-consumption of sugar reeks on our bodies and I wasn’t sure I wanted to fully reintroduce it again. I’ve already been sugar free for this long, I thought, what’s a little longer.

This diet was a big adjustment and so much more difficult for me personally, than going gluten free – but I did it, I learned a lot and by choice have continued to stick with it. I’ll be sharing more soon on why I’ve chosen to denormalize sugar, along with some helpful information and advice if you’d like to do the same.

Next week (the last in the 5 part series documenting my recent health journey) – My Journey Through Health and Healing: Adrenal Fatigue 

My Journey Through Health and Healing: Finding a Naturopath

In spite of the new challenges my allergies and the onset of asthma (that I covered last week) presented, summer came, the tests and doctors visits slowed down and it felt good to get outside. I was still having a lot of GI problems and was growing frustrated with the symptomatic treatment I was receiving from doctors. No one seemed to think that my sudden outbreak of symptoms and issues were related. To me it was a no-brainer. I was being treated and medicated for each symptom on its own but what about the cause??

Per the recommendation of the allergist, I bought a HEPA air filter and some allergen proof mattress and pillow covers that spring… I was doing my best to cover my bases!

Summer time meant warm weather up here in the Mid-West and ICE CREAM. Like ice cream every day. At least, multiple times a week. I might have an ice cream addiction, okay? Well, it’s not that bad but it’s a personal favorite and finding little enjoyment in much else during that period, I indulged in it.

Around this time, my mother told me about a conversation she had had with a doctor who had recently partnered with a business that my parents co-founded, called Bonvera. She had told him about myself and everything I had been dealing with. He had started a revolutionary clinic in Wichita, Kansas called Prairie Health and Wellness that offers a monthly membership and takes a multi-faceted approach to health and healing. It was too bad I didn’t live closer to his clinic, he had told my mom, there were a number of tests he would have run right off the bat that a typical doctor most likely wouldn’t.

One of the doctors in his practice is a licensed naturopath, something I hadn’t even considered up until that point. After deciding that moving to Kansas for a short time was just not practical, I decided to look into the possibility of seeing a naturopath. I honestly didn’t know much about them and had certainly never been to one before; I didn’t even know if there were any remotely close to where I live.

Lo and behold a quick Google search revealed not one but many naturopath’s in the state of Ohio and several with-in a 90 mile radius. I quickly educated myself as I narrowed down the results to one who I hoped would be a good fit for my situation. Not all self proclaimed naturopath’s have actually had formal training, I learned. There are only 7 accredited naturopathic medical programs in the United States and only 22 states currently recognize licensed naturopaths. I noticed that Ohio was not yet one of them.

What does this mean? It simply means that even if your ND (Naturopathic Doctor) has had formal training (which was important to me), if they are practicing in a state that does not recognize that training, they have some restrictions placed on them. They are more than qualified to practice medicine but they will not be able to accept insurance and they will also not be able to write prescriptions, if they are needed. They can however, still order a large variety of home based test kits depending on what your situation calls for. Overall, I’ve come to think of it more along the lines of a consultation.

Initially, I was a little taken back by the fact that my visits would all be out of pocket and the initial consultation costs were around $250. But honestly, what did I have to lose? I had already spent thousands of dollars (after insurance) on doctors and tests that, in the long run, did not seem to be doing anything for me. I felt like if anything, I was being pushed along on a sideways trajectory. I wanted up and out. I wanted answers. I wanted to feel better again, and if this had any potential to be the answer to my prayers, I wasn’t going to let another couple hundred dollars deter me. What is your health, sanity and quality of life worth? I couldn’t put a price on it.

I began taking more notice of the foods I was eating. I felt like crap already and didn’t need junk food to drag me down further. I found comfort and enjoyment in healthy, nourishing snacks that not only tasted good but didn’t make my body feel worse.

I finally settled on Dr. Maleigha Watts of Toledo Naturopathic. Dr. Watts has a very professional website that clearly states her views on medicine and her belief in the use of both traditional and non traditional methods depending on what the situation calls for. She isn’t against using medications if they are necessary. She also offers free 20 minute phone consultations with potential patients so you can both get a feel and assess if you’d be a good fit for each other. Many of the other naturopath’s that I looked into offered something similar. After my initial consultation with Dr. Watts I had no doubt.

I scheduled my first appointment with Dr. Watts and was amazed when she spent an hour and a half during my first visit asking various questions about my physical and mental health history, dating back to childhood. She is usually scheduled out a month or more in advance for the initial consultations – it’s worth the wait, trust me. The best part? She listened. I mean truly, sincerely listened to what I had to say and to the concerns that I had. Dr. Watts has a beautiful way of making you feel at ease and in every appointment since the first, I walk away feeling refreshed and reinvigorated with a renewed sense of direction and understanding. I left that very first appointment on a high, both physically and emotionally, already so very grateful for what would become a game changer on my journey towards health and healing.

To learn more about naturopathic medicine and find a licensed naturopath near you, click here.

Next week: My Journey Through Health and Healing: Candida Overgrowth

My Journey Through Health and Healing: Allergies and Asthma

Last week I talked about the beginning stages of my bout with mono. I don’t remember much from the weeks following my ER visit, except that I rested a lot and wasn’t well enough to make my evening trip to the barn to see my horse, who lives a mile down the road, for over 6 weeks. The fact that I was living with the family I work for was an incredible blessing. Most of my work being conducted on the computer, I was able to still keep up with some of the business I had been doing before I got sick. In reality though, even sitting at my desk was tiring and more time was spent on the office couch with my laptop nearby, resting and working in increments. A kind and understanding employer is not a luxury everyone has and I’m grateful, as I would have almost certainly lost my job in any other circumstance.

After weeks on the couch, a “new do” and some makeup goes a long way towards making one feel normal… on the outside at least. (February 2017)

Time passed in a haze. I remember going back to the barn at some point and trying to spend some time with my horse. As I groomed him and his hair landed on my arms I broke out in a rash. This was unexpected. I knew I was allergic to many animals and it had gotten a bit worse with age, but in the past, so long as I kept the hair out of my eyes and away from my face, I was okay. I have always loved animals and have surrounded myself with them throughout my life. Cats, dogs, horses, rabbits, even a painted turtle. This reaction was different, I had never broken out upon simple contact before. My body was clearly on high alert.

Around this time (spring 2017) I realized I was having a hard time breathing. Actually, when I started to think about it, I had started having shortness of breath and other asthma like symptoms not long after my ER visit in January. I had asthma as a very young child but it had not been an issue for years. To compound things, I was still dealing with fatigue and my heart palpitations were persisting as were the GI symptoms that had been plaguing me since Christmas time. It was frightening. I was experiencing so many unfamiliar sensations and I was overwhelmed.

By this time I had had a number of doctors visits. One visit in particular set my blood on fire. The doctor was an older gentleman who has been practicing in the small town I live for a very long time. He took a brief look at the litany of tests I had undergone as I tried to explain all of the things I had already been through that year as well as the symptoms I was still experiencing, including the palpitations. I had written down some questions and as I started on the first one, he took the paper out of my hand, scanning it quickly while muttering under his breath.

Hypochondriac,” he mumbled as he looked up at me. Embarrassed, I tried to explain my situation again, this time flustered and without my paper of questions he continued to withhold. He proceeded to flip over the paper I had brought along and drew out a diagram to illustrate what anxiety looked like and offered his opinion on why “most girls my age had it”. By this time I was mortified. If you’d have experienced what I have in the past few months you’d have anxiety too, I thought. I didn’t want pills and I realized very quickly that nothing I could say or do would help him understand.

I went home upset and not long after, received a $230 bill from his office, which I unsuccessfully tried my best to reverse. I resigned myself to the fact that this one would have to be chalked up to experience… after I wrote a very honest review on Google! My point in telling this story: There is always a way to make your voice heard. Keep searching.

Along with those doctors visits came a slew of tests. I think I had 5 complete blood work ups total during 2017 for various reasons. I underwent a chest x-ray, an EKG and an echo-cardiogram which showed some unexplained irregular heart beats and minor regurgitation in one of my heart valves, an apparently common occurrence but not the cause of the palpitations I was experiencing. I also had allergy testing done which confirmed I was highly allergic to many of the things I love most (animals and outdoors). Around this time I underwent a pulmonary functioning test which showed some obstruction in my lungs. I was initially put on a low dose of Flovent which was soon raised to a higher dosage of 110mcg 2 puffs twice a day along with 10mg of Singular and an Allegra, both taken once a day. It was costing me $250 a month for the inhalers alone. (I did finally learn of a way to order them through a Canadian pharmacy, which brought the price down significantly to a more reasonable $65/month.)

With new diagnoses and new medications I entered summer, feeling unsettled and anxious despite all of the “answers” I had been give.

Next week: My Journey Through Health and Healing: Finding a Naturopath 

My Journey Through Health and Healing: Mononucleosis

One of my goals for this blog is to help others find their voice and if nothing else, know they are not alone – whether you can relate to my struggles, or are dealing with something completely different. Over the next month I want to share with you all an abbreviated version of my own journey which put me on this path a year and a half ago. Until I got sick, beyond your standard cold or flu, and started sharing snippets of what I was going through in conversation with others, I never really realized how many people are suffering in silence or how completely autoimmune diseases can and do make their presence felt in the lives of so many every single day.

I’m not looking for sympathy, I’ve learned to embrace my journey and I’m grateful for it. I simply hope that by sharing what I’ve gone through, others might be able to carve their own path to healing more quickly, or at the very least, with a better sense of direction. The next few blogs will be a general outline of my recent health journey. Included will be the major turning points; at a later date I may expound even more on some of the things that I have tried and that have (or have not) helped me. Today, a look back at how it all began…

I began showing symptoms of Mono around the end of December, 2016. I had done quite a bit of work related traveling in October and with the standard incubation period of mono being around 6 weeks, I suspect I may have picked it up around that time. Contrary to popular belief, there are other ways of contracting it aside from kissing. Or, perhaps it had been laying dormant for years and a combination of events had unknowingly kicked it into high gear. There’s really no way to know for sure. I can’t pinpoint exactly when I started feeling unwell but looking back, things began to unravel on my trip home to visit my family over Christmas.

Everything was status quo when the steering wheel on my car began to lock up. I was able to navigate over a lane and pulled to a quick stop in the median between the highway and an on ramp as my wheel stiffened even more. Thankfully, with cars zooming past me at an uncomfortably close proximity, I wasn’t far from home and my rescue party was able to come and help me. Although there was snow on the ground, it was a mild mid-west winter day so the lack of heat while I waited wasn’t too much of a concern at the time. A parts store was a little ways down the road and after a couple of trips we were able to find the problem and fix my vehicle. Though I hadn’t dressed for an adventure on the side of the road, my soaked feet didn’t really bother me and I finished the drive home in my car albeit wet, hungry and with my nerves on edge but grateful for the quick fix.

It became quickly apparent to me that I was coming down with a stomach virus of some sorts. Restroom visits were frequent and I hesitated eating many of the festive holiday foods that I loved so much. As my trip home came to a close, we decided to shop some of the post holiday sales before I headed back to Ohio. The nausea kicked in full force on the way, and I kept my eyes clamped shut until we arrived, willing myself not to be sick all over the back seat. I made it through the shopping trip but it was rough.

After talking with my mom, we both agreed that I probably had a blood sugar issue (I had had isolated episodes of nausea and dizziness in the past and on a day to day basis, always needed to eat almost immediately upon waking) so I made an appointment to see my doctor once I returned to Ohio. As the weeks went on, the nausea and stomach issues remained, hitting hard early in the day and trailing off towards evening. I didn’t know what to make of it but I pushed through –what else was there to do? I certainly couldn’t put my life on hold because my tummy hurt. I had big plans going into the New Year and didn’t have time for whatever this was.

A loving reminder as I stumbled through those first couple of months, trying to figure out what was happening to me and why. Thanks Gram.

A blood test revealed nothing too amiss. My doctor prescribed me some pills for anxiety, which I was wary to begin after learning the possible side effects, and I was scheduled to see her again soon. Two evenings later, on January 18th, as I drove home from the barn, my first real anxiety attack hit, hard. I didn’t know what was happening and I couldn’t shake it. I had this horrible feeling that something was not right with my body.

As the night went on, it only got worse. My body felt like it was crumbling to pieces, I had no control. I couldn’t get a full breathe of air, my chest was painfully tight, I couldn’t stop the trembling and the palpitations were constant. I wracked my brain in search of a reasonable cause. The evening before I had gone out and had a few drinks with friends to celebrate my birthday, the only thing I had taken the following day was an Excedrin for a painful headache. It didn’t make sense.

I slept with my eyes open that night, terrified and unable to fall asleep. The next morning, with the palpitations continuing, I went into the ER and they ran a slew of tests. The doctor came in, smiling, and told me he had good news and bad news. The good news was they had discovered my problem – the bad news, I had a case of mononucleosis (more commonly referred to as “mono”). The palpitations? They couldn’t put a finger on it. Their advice? Go home, avoid any strenuous activity for a couple of months, drink lots of fluids and rest. Armed with that meager bit of information I went home, having no idea just how thoroughly mono, the Epstein Barr Virus and autoimmunity itself would weave its way around my life in the months to come.

Next week: My Journey Through Health and Healing: Allergies and Asthma 

…And Why Is It So Hard?

This week’s post includes some additional thoughts on last week’s topic, “What is ‘Healthy Eating’?”

On a podcast I was listening to the other day the guest made a very simple but valid point that resonated with me. Eating healthy, giving our bodies the nutritious fuel we need to live our lives, is not supposed to be a monumental task. Think about that for a second. Eating is not meant to be the daily ginormous physical and mental battle that is has become for so many. It really isn’t supposed to be this hard. So WHY is it and why do we guilt ourselves so badly about it??

If you asked most people what the first thing is that pops into their head when they hear the term “healthy eating” it’s likely not an energized sense of well-being. Maybe more along the lines of a guilty flashback to last night’s piece of chocolate cake. I think it’s something we’ve all experienced at least one time or another (if not all the time!). It might start with an internal groan followed by an excuse on why a “pass” is deserved (dare I say… again?) and maybe even a few tries at making yourself feel better about your current attempts to follow whatever you think or have been told equates to a healthy diet. And let’s be real, what’s considered “healthy” one day often changes by the next. Well, not quite that quickly, but you get my gist. Eating healthy can be time consuming, frustrating, expensive and downright overwhelming.

As to why, I think many cases could be made. The blessing of modern technology has brought with it an insane amount of added chemicals, hormones, preservatives and dyes that now make up a majority of the food in our grocery stores. We are bombarded with ads for these items everywhere we turn, from our local fast food favorites to commercials and ads on the television and internet. It’s literally in our face. All the time. And it is so easy. From the frozen dinners at the supermarket to the drive thru at McDonald’s, it’s not hard to see how these habits quickly creep into the lives of busy families and become a weekly staple. Then once they do, what happens? There are just as many ads enlightening us on how we can “redeem” ourselves. It can be quite the vicious cycle.

I can’t help but throw one more wrench in the works by adding another possible and all too common scenario as to why someone might be struggling with sticking to a chosen path. What about those that didn’t knowingly choose it? What if you HAD to eat – or not eat – a certain way due to health concerns? That doesn’t necessarily make it any easier to stick to. In some ways, it makes it even harder because unlike willingly choosing to try and eat a certain way, it wasn’t something you sought out. This is the perspective I come from. (Yet another topic for another time but one I think it’s important to cover sooner rather than later.)

Now I ask you, what if it wasn’t hard? What if when we feel we’ve slipped up or overindulged yet again, we didn’t beat ourselves over the head? What if we accepted it and moved on? This doesn’t mean you should be lackadaisical about it but there’s no sense in letting it ruin your day and everyone else’s. The age old adage “tomorrow is a new day” is wonderful, but you don’t need to wait until the following day. The next piece of food you put into your mouth has the potential to be a new beginning!

Speaking of eggplant… this curry was so good! (Recipe courtesy of the Rich Roll Meal Planner.)

Many people have simply never been shown how easy, fun and delicious it can be to make their own nutrient dense meals with minimal but high quality ingredients. Sure, you can get elaborate if you want but when I’m hungry, I want to eat now and anything that takes a great deal of time is just not going to happen unless I’ve planned for it in advance – which is another great habit to get into it… but more on that another time.

I recently made a personal commitment to start eating more plant based meals. I’m picking up vegetables in the grocery store I’ve never ever bought and in some cases, have never even heard of before, and – with the help of God and Google – have been incorporating them into my meals. Who knew that eggplant was so good? Laugh at me if you will and rest assured, you don’t need to get all crazy. My point is, I’m finding that it’s really not that hard. Or time consuming. It just takes a little effort and practice. I am by no means a lifelong cook. It’s a new passion and the more I try, the more my confidence grows. Yours can too.

Recipes are a much needed guide to begin with (for me at least) but after some practice, you just might find yourself becoming a little daring and attempting some of your own inventive concoctions. Next week will see the launch of a series of blog post explaining my own back story and what put me on this path.

What Is “Healthy Eating”?

This is a question I’ve asked myself over and over and over again. I use to think that “healthy eating” was a very specific rigid way of life. A way of life that made people groan when it was mentioned and grouped foods into “good foods” versus “bad foods”.  As my personal journey and knowledge has progressed, I’m realizing that could not be further from the truth. Not long ago someone redefined for me the way that we think and talk about food. They said that in reality there are foods – real, actual foods that deliver nutrients to our body – and there are non-foods, which are made up almost entirely of “things”, additives, etc. that are not natural and would be un-recognizable to anyone a few hundred years ago. One is not a good food and the other a bad, one is simply a food and the other isn’t.

That doesn’t mean you can’t indulge in these “non foods” once in a while. They are a big part of our society and it’s very hard to avoid them all the time, in fact, I’m sure you even have some favorites – I know I do – but recognize them for what they are… or are not. Maybe you disagree or perhaps you view it differently (in which case, please send me a message or comment and share, I’d love to hear your viewpoint) but it made sense to me and I hope it will to you also. There is no one size fits all shoe when it comes to a successful healthy diet or lifestyle. Our bodies are all very unique and so too are their needs.

One of the most beautiful things I have learned thus far is how to listen to my body. A certain way of eating or a certain way of living might be serving your best friend wonderfully, and it might look good too. But that doesn’t mean that it’s right for YOU. Perhaps it is, perhaps it isn’t. Give it a try and then pay attention. Really, truly listen to your body. Over the last year and a half I’ve had so many different tests done as I’ve tried to navigate my own health journey back to healing. They were all useful and served a purpose but in retrospect, some of them simply validated what my body was already telling me.

Don’t get trapped in the belief that you have to eat keto or paleo or gluten free or vegan or whatever you might believe or may have been told is the “right way” to eat healthy, because there are many. (Just to be clear, this isn’t a free ticket to indulge on a diet that consists of chocolate chip cookies and Coca-Cola. That’s not what I’m talking about here.)

What does healthy eating mean to me? To me, eating healthy means a protein shake every morning (not because I need more protein, but because I simply enjoy them and love starting my day off with a chocolate/peanut butter/banana flavor combo… soooo good!). To me, eating healthy usually involves a lunch that consists of yummy leftovers or a one pot hodgepodge that may or may not consist of leftovers, fresh veggies, beans, rice, and maybe some chicken. (By the way, some quick, easy recipes coming soon for these “hodgepodge” meals. I’m obsessed with them.) To me, eating healthy means snacks – lots of them – that make me want to keep moving, not lie down and take a nap. To me, eating healthy means eating mostly gluten and refined sugar free. To me, eating healthy means colorful vegetables. To me, eating healthy means finding foods that make my body feel good inside and out. To me, eating healthy means not beating myself up when I’m traveling and have had too many orders of sweet potato fries… a personal weakness. To me, eating healthy means finding the time to bake and doing so creatively (minus the gluten/refined sugar) without skimping on the taste OR the chocolate content. To me, eating healthy means listening and readjusting to my body’s ever changing needs.

What does eating healthy mean to you?

Welcome to Incredibly You!

I’ve somewhat casually rolled around the idea of starting a blog for about a year, but, for some reason, up until this point I couldn’t make myself sit down and actually start one. I think if I’m being honest, I wasn’t ready and I knew it. The timing didn’t feel quite right and while I had tossed around a few ideas on possible ways to approach it, none of them seemed to fit the way I knew they should. For me, there’s also a very distinct vulnerability factor to writing; after-all, if it’s truly coming from within, aren’t you providing others a tiny glimpse into the person underneath with every word you write? That can be very personal but when done authentically, incredibly freeing. More or less the inspiration needed to do this and do it right just wasn’t there, until now.

I think it’s important to begin by saying that I’m neither a nurse nor a doctor, not a nutritionist or a specialist of any kind. I’ve taken no official courses and I haven’t studied under anything other than my own personal experience. My passion for pursuing a healthier, more well-rounded lifestyle stems from my own personal health issues over the last year and a half and corresponding with others who are also struggling. It has stopped me in my tracks, quite literally, and has allowed me in large part to take my health into my own hands, becoming my own best advocate and leaving me eager to inspire others to do the same.

During the short time I’ve been on this journey, I’ve already collected and poured over stacks of books, perused countless articles and researched the answers to an endless internal stream of questions searching for truth along the way. We are so blessed with the arrival of modern medicine which has and will continue to help millions in need, but in the process, I think we have forgotten that our health is still our own and every decision that we make is one step closer to the type of life we are consciously or more often than not, unconsciously, creating for ourselves and our families.

Unfortunately, many times it takes a diagnosis for us to seriously begin reflecting upon why, trying to figure out how and then actually changing the aspects of our own life that are not serving us as they should and led us down the path we find ourselves on. If and when you do figure out some of those puzzle pieces, consciously changing and rerouting yourself can be such an overwhelming process (this I know!). I hope that as I share my journey with you and everything I have learned on it so far, you’ll feel inspired do the same. After all, isn’t that what we should all be doing? Sharing, encouraging and loving each other on with an open mind? Our individual journeys through life are uniquely our own but I don’t think that we as a whole are so very different in the end. I look forward to taking this journey with you; learning, growing and readjusting as we go.

See you all on Thursday…