July 19, 2012

Here’s to Health…

Have you ever felt like you are on life overload? I have felt like that recently. As a person, I am always in some process of self-awareness, trying to learn and better myself. That can sometimes get a little hectic and possibly out of hand.

Recently I have been working on my overall health. This has two major components. The first is to become nutritionally healthier. Since my first year of college up to recently, my weight has been steadily increasing. When starting college, my 5’6″ frame was at around 130 lbs or so. Sometime last year, about 8 years later, I hit about 200 lbs. That number crushed me. I couldn’t believe I had let myself gain so much weight. I hated loking at pictures of myself — I didn’t even recognize the woman staring back at me. About two months ago I finally decided enough was enough and started Isagenix, which is an all natural meal replacement program. I’ve been working with a therapist/life coach/friend who has helped keep me on track and so far, through a change in diet and exercise, I’ve lost somewhere between 8 and 10 lbs (yay!!). This isn’t just about losing weight, though.

The second component is paying better attention to what I put in and on my body. This is about educating myself. First is food. The main reason most people are overweight is sugar. Our society consumes entirely too much sugar – namely processed sugar, which is found in most anything that comes from a package. But processed sugar is also that white stuff found in your sugar bowl in your kitchen. Better options for natural sweeteners  are honey, agave syrup, and brown sugar, which still contain calories but have less impact on your glycemic index. Along with being more aware of the sugar I’m consuming, I’m also more aware of other things I consume. I try to avoid vegetable oil, replacing it with olive oils, coconut oil, grape seed oil, etc. I also have almost completely eliminated partially hydrogenated oils (trans fats) from my diet. I am also in the process of eliminating all white flour and white sugar from my diet. These changes aren’t super easy – but eating more whole foods (non-packaged items, fruits, vegetables, and meats) makes it a lot easier.

Secondly: products. In my life I have started eliminating certain products that contain toxins, poisons, or dangerous chemicals. So far, this has included ventures in homemade deodorant, homemade cleaning products, using essential oils to  relieve headaches, goat’s milk soap, and trying out a non-shampoo hair rinse made up of a baking soda rinse and an apple cider vinegar rinse (results post is soon to come). I am continuously going to be looking for healthier and more natural options for my everyday health and beauty products. That being said, any input or ideas from my readers would be greatly appreciated. Other things I’m interested in are homemade laundry soap, dish soap, bug spray, carpet cleaner, and  any no-flour baking ideas.

As you can see, the past two months have been filled with a lot of change. Hopefully I can start paving the way to a healthier and more natural life. Now only if I could drag my husband into it with me… :) Baby steps!!

 

*Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. Make sure you are healthy enough for physical activity before starting any exercise regime and be sure to be aware of any possible allergies, etc before changing up your diet.

May 23, 2012

Floor of Failure

Sometimes I look in the mirror

and you rear your ugly head

I try to pretend you aren’t there

that you don’t exist

Then I trip and fall flat on my face

You are ever-so present

and all I want to do is cry

give up and lie

on the floor of failure

Tonight I’m facing this

monster that paralyzes me

with fear with invisible power

I can’t put my finger on it

The intangible terror is

dancing with you in

my head

My mouth is dry and my

words are gone

What you don’t know, though

is that I just took my

first step

to no longer being under

your thumb.

May 22, 2012

My Love for Cilantro

I really enjoy cooking. Honestly, I really enjoy food all around. If anyone knows me, they know that I love to entertain guests and cook meals. Since my husband, Jason, and I have been in Wisconsin, I have hosted several holidays and one very special thirtieth birthday party :)

I’m always looking for new recipes that reinvent old favorites. If I can make it from a box, then why can’t I make it from scratch? Some of my favorites are baked macaroni and cheese, white chicken chili made with a tortilla soup base, and homemade salsa.

My two favorite ingredients in my salsa are fresh lime juice and freshly chopped cilantro. I love cilantro. Cilantro adds this wonderful fresh flavor to anything you put it in. When I describe it to people (because, yes, I enjoy describing the flavors of my favorite herbs to people all the time), I compare it to that light freshness that mint has, minus the minty flavor.

I was recently looking for a recipe for a tuna salad that didn’t incorporate any pasta in it. (I’m trying to be more conscious of the empty carbs I eat) I cam across this Salvadoran Tuna Salad. It has tuna, chopped tomato (I used halved grape tomatoes), fresh lime juice, chopped and seeded jalapeno, a little mayonnaise, and freshly chopped cilantro :) Yes! It also calls for a chopped onion but I don’t put raw onions in anything but my salsa. You serve it on crackers. This recipe was delicious! Very light and tasty. I eat it by itself, without the crackers, and it is amazing. The tomato, lime, and cilantro give it freshness of salsa and the tuna and mayo give it a nice body. It is a great combination of flavors.

Image

I look forward to taking this salad/dip to more cookouts and gatherings in the coming summer. I found a similar recipe that calls for freshly pressed garlic, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil instead of mayo. I’ll have to report my findings on how that turns out.

I’m always open to recipe ideas. If anyone has something delicious they would like to share, please do! I would also love to hear what you all think about this recipe. Thanks for reading!

May 18, 2012

H2O Project: Changing a Perspective

There’s nothing like a little suffering to put life into perspective.

At my church we decided to take on an initiative to help provide water wells in places where they do not have access to clean water. I talked about this a little bit in my last post. Now that I’m clear-headed and caffeinated once again, I feel as though I’m ready to talk about it some more.

The initiative is called the H2O Project. The idea is that you give up all beverages besides water for a certain amount of time. During that time you calculate what you would have spent on all other beverages. At the the end of that time you take the money you would have spent on other beverages and donate it to an organization of your choosing that will help provide water wells to developing countries who do not have clean water. My church decided to send our proceeds to Living Water International

There are two parts to this initiative, which is why I think it is so powerful. There is the practical money aspect. They need money to make this happen, so we donate our money to those who need it. But then there is the personal aspect. We make a conscious decision to go without something we want so others can get something they need. We don’t have give up something to donate the money. The donation is the easy part. The act of giving something up is the hard part because it involves a little bit of sacrifice and suffering on our end. If we didn’t give something up, though, it would no longer make it personal. Of course being a little caffeine deprived is nothing compared to the suffering the people go through when they have no clean water. We’re talking disease, suffering, and death in so many cases. One child dies every 15 seconds from a (preventable) water related disease.

For me, the lack of coffee hit the hardest. The first week was one big headache between caffeine deprivation and well-timed allergies. But it really did put life into perspective a little bit. I realized that my “sacrifice” was definitely a first-world problem — similar to when your iPod stops working, or when your computer crashes, or when a speech from the president interrupts your favorit show. Those are mild annoyances but not nearly as awful as when your sibling gets cholera from drinking dirty water or when your government deprives your village of a water well because they don’t like your tribe.

This entire experience made me come to two realizations. First, this water crisis is very real to a lot of people across the world (about 1 billion people). Something needs to be done. Second, it really helped me to appreciate what I have. Namely clean water and coffee. That first cup of coffee after two full weeks with out any was heavenly. The best part, probably, was that I got to enjoy it with my mom on Mother’s Day. Since then I have had quite a large amount of coffee, but I tend to appreciate that warm, nutty goodness a little more than I used to. Needless to say, my co-workers are also appreciative of my coffee :)

I guess the moral of the story would be take the time to really enjoy the things you have in life — even the small things — and, every once in a while, think about what life would be like without those things. As a first world nation, we are truly blessed — even our poor and homeless have more luxuries than those in developing nations who don’t even have access to clean water. Think about it.

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May 6, 2012

The Clarified Ramblings of a Woman Recently Stressed (and without coffee)

I’ve had one helluva week. As I go through the details of this week, please note that this is fairly unedited and my original draft.

After two weeks of training, this was the first week at my new job where I was taking on my regular job responsibilities. It also happened to be the same week we started an initiative at church to help provide funding for water wells in countries where they do not have access to clean water. The H20 project is an event where you drink nothing but water for a set amount of time while keeping track of what you would have spent on other beverages during that time. Then you take the money you would have spent and donate it to an organization that digs wells for areas without clean drinking water.

During all this, the combination of caffeine-deprivation (no coffee, only water) and sinus/allergy issues left me battling several headaches over the week. On Wednesday we had some terrible storms matched with flash-flooding which left 3-4 inches of water in our basement and a rogue sock in our floor drain did not help the situation. After the basement drained, laundry washing began promptly before the molding commenced, as there was quite a collection of laundry on my basement floor. Before the flooding, I was preparing for a last-minute weekend visit from my best friend from college. This included a kitchen full of dishes to be washed and a spare room that at some point had become a storage unit. After washing nearly all the clothes and dishes in my entire house, my dear friend regretted to inform me that she would be unable to visit this weekend due to various outside forces and responsibilities (bless her heart). I must admit I was disappointed that I wasn’t going to see my friend this weekend, but I really did understand. It was very short notice and spur-of-the-moment. It did, however, give us a chance to plan something more definite for Memorial Day Weekend, which will give me time to get the spare room in order.

Now I’m not writing about this chain of events to complain, though there was plenty of that at the time. There were some small blessings that came out of this past week. When I took on those job responsibilities, I was actually working a week ahead of where my boss expected me to be – brownie points :) I was also forced to do all of my laundry (fold it and put it away due to our weekend guest). I washed all of the dishes in the house (no dishwasher) because of our potential guest. I also had to face the dreaded spare room that I have been hiding from relentlessly. I found myself with superhuman capabilities of efficiency and drive to get things accomplished. I haven’t felt that productive in a while. That’s the thing about those mini crises we encounter every so often. They tend to pull us out of a funk. They put us into survival mode – we need to do what needs to get done because no one else is going to do it for us.

I think when we have those times when life takes hold and won’t let go until we simply go limp in its grasp, we can sometimes throw our hands up in exasperation say, “Well life sucks. What can you do?” I know for myself, I can often just become defeated. That attitude can be so detrimental to our souls. It can drag us through the mud and leave us there. In those times, don’t forget that everything has a purpose. It may not be pretty at the time, but God takes those ugly things in life and eventually makes something beautiful out of them. We just have to take a moment to see that. Take a moment and breathe. As my mother always says; this too shall pass.

 

*After I originally posted this today, I checked my email and this was my daily scripture: “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.” – James 1:2-3

This is the lake in front of our house that was our street.

 

April 3, 2012

Overdressed

I recently found out that I got a new job (yay!). I currently love the job I have, except my manager is nearly impossible to work for, so I had to find something else. Luckily, though, I get to stay with the same company. I love the company I work for, so that is exciting. In this new adventure, here are a few perks: I’m still in customer service, but it’s a call center, so less face-to-face and it’s an internal line, so I’ll be working only with other employees (This can actually be a pro and a con as I will desperately miss several of my customers). The drive will be 5 minutes as opposed to 30 minutes (yay on saving gas!). I will be getting more pay, which is always beneficial. They believe in coaching and professional development, which is part of the reason I’m leaving my current position. Finally, I can wear jeans and flip-flops everyday! That benefit is really not super important. but it is very exciting.

When I was going over the various benefits with my husband, I was a little overly excited about that last point. He smiled and in his cute way he said, “Dress for the job you want, not for the job you have.” At first I pondered this quote and thought for a moment that he totally burst my bubble. Then I laughed and replied, “Well since I want to be a professional musician, I need a few more colors in my hair, a tattoo or two, and more piercings. I’ve clearly been overdressing for years now!” He laughed at that statement because he knew I was right, as usual ;)

This thought got me thinking. Often times, we have these dreams and aspirations about our lives, but often times, we let those go for more “practical” things like higher paying jobs, stability, families, mortgages, etc. Then as we get older we look back with regret about the things we didn’t do. If you’ve ever felt like this, I suggest you read the book Cold Tangerines by Shauna Niequist. This woman, with a combination of Godly interventions, has changed my life. She helped me to realize that there is no better time to reach for my dreams than right this second. If we do not pursue those dreams and gifts given to us, then we are wasting them.

I also recently started following the blog of a musician in Chicago. Her name is Ellen McSweeney.  She and I have a mutual friend who had posted her blog on Facebook several months ago. At the time, I didn’t actually read her blog, but I saved her in my favorites. I am certainly glad I did. She has beautiful insight to the world of being a working musician and can be quite inspirational. I look forward to learning more about her and her music. She is very talented.

Dressing for the job you want is a very important and true insight to living the life you want to live. If you are looking around right now and thinking, “I’m not where I want to be, but how do I get there?” then I have a few tips for you:

1. Stop making excuses and accept the fact that you want to be in a different place than where you currently are.

2. Think about the place where you want to be and look at the small changes you can make in your life to help you get there.

3. Start to make those small changes.

4. Do something creative everyday. (This tip is specifically from Shauna Niequist)

5. Don’t get overwhelmed. Remember: these are small changes. The best way to do this is implement one change per week and go from there. It takes several repetitions to make something a habit.

6. Finally, network and build a support system. Have a group of people who you can discuss progress, road blocks, and exchange encouragement. This helps to establish accountability and there is always strength in numbers. (This is also a tip from Shauna)

 

I really hope this helps to encourage those who are less than encouraged by their current positions. Please check out these two artists I mentioned. They are really encouraging. I also welcome any feedback on this entry. Is there anything you would add to my list or tweak? Please share! We’re all in this life together.

March 26, 2012

What do you say when an Atheist sneezes?

I have a very dear friend who is an Atheist. I am a Christian (I know. Scandalous.) My friend and I were having a very interesting conversation about Christianity and my personal beliefs. This conversation got me thinking about the dynamics a conversation like this often has.

We had always talked vaguely about our belief differences but I don’t think I was ever confident enough in my faith to get too in depth with him. He’s always been respectful of that, I think. Part of the reason I didn’t have the discussion with him, was because I held onto this false notion that my faith was personal and I didn’t have to talk about it to be a “good” Christian, etc. In the last few years, however, I realized we were put here to share the love of Jesus. I also didn’t think I was equipped to speak accurately about God in the context of the challenges and questions atheists often pose to Christians. Those tough, logical questions that often leave Christians feeling attacked and on the defensive. George and I met in college and I was in the in-between place with my faith. I still believed, I just didn’t make an effort to follow. In my opinion, that didn’t make me the best spokesperson for Christianity. I couldn’t possibly answer all the questions I knew he was going to ask. I just knew I believed.

It’s eight years later and I still don’t have all the answers, but we somehow stumbled upon this discussion. The conversation was civil and respectful. We both respected the other person’s views. We had a very intellectual conversation and not once did I feel attacked. I was able to convey my beliefs, thoughts, and opinions without sounding too preachy (I think). Either that or he politely put up with it.The conversation ended and we were still friends. That is always a bonus.

Several things had changed in those eight years before this conversation. I had since re-dedicated my life to the Lord and taken an active role in my faith. I believe Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior, and I always have. What is different, though, is that I have thoughts and opinions on Christianity. I have discernment and don’t just believe it because I’m told to. I also speak out when I hear Christians inaccurately representing God. I understand everyone is on their own journey with God and it is not my job to condemn. It is my job to love.

This whole conversation worked for a few reasons. First, I went into this as a candid conversation between friends, because it was. We were having a normal conversation and (gasp) I didn’t try to convert him. That is not my job as a Christian. My job is to share about my relationship with God and answer questions the best I can. That is exactly what I did. I also respected his thoughts and opinions. He had some very valid arguments and questions. He asked some of the same and very difficult questions a lot of Christians ask. I answered him the best I knew how. Some questions I knew the answers to, others I had opinions on. That being said, I did not pretend I had all the answers. I don’t. There are reasons God does not reveal all the answers to us. We need to learn to be confident enough in our faith to be comfortable in admitting we don’t know all the answers.

In all honesty, George knows more about the histories and origins of several religions, including Christianity, than I do. He probably already knew most of what I told him, but he still respected and listened. I cannot stress enough how important it is to have open, honest conversations. Be understanding with others who have opinions different than yours. We all feel passionately about various things – religion, politics, how to raise families, the best recipe for chili. We will get nowhere if we can’t listen and partake in intelligent, two-sided conversations.

Did I convert my friend George? Hardly. That’s not the point anyway. All I can do is be a good friend and pray for him (Yep, that’s right, George :) ).

*I would like to thank Dane Cook for giving me the idea for the title of this post, though he doesn’t know it.  And I would like to thank my friend, George, for letting me use our impromptu conversation as a little inspiration. You’re a gem :)

February 25, 2012

House Plant

So I have this house plant that I got from my mamaw’s house when she passed away a few years ago. I actually had obtained 4 plants. One died in transport between Indiana and Tennessee. One died after transport from Tennessee to Wisconsin. And one is still at my in-laws from when we moved from Tennessee to Wisconsin (over 2 years ago). We do have one at our house.

I have determined that I do not have the capabilities to keep plants alive in my house. The only time I can seem to remember to water it is when it has wilted to the point where you think it cannot possibly come back. Yet, it somehow manages to make it. It’s like Super Plant — which is a good thing. It would have died long ago otherwise. Trying to have orchids in my house would laughable.

I guess I have never been much of a gardener. House plants are not even considered “gardening”, though. They are so simple to care for. I’m not sure what gave me the urge to take these plants. I think it was the idea that these plants would be like a living extension of my mamaw, who was taken from this world entirely too soon at the age of 60. Also, while growing up we had a ton of plants in the house. We had tall plants, hanging plants, ferns, spider plants, etc. Then one year, my mom just stopped watering them. Though my parents’ divorce didn’t happen until many years later, I think there is some deep parallel there.

Maybe I equate the house plants to love and life in my world. If I keep them alive, then somehow Mamaw is still with me and there is a physical proof of love in my life. It’s a thought. But what I’m finding is that I do not have a green thumb. If my theory is true, then if this plant eventually dies I’m incapable of love and my mamaw’s legacy is gone forever.

Well that’s not right… is it? I think often times we develop these unrealistic and unhealthy attachments to objects for sentimental purposes. There is nothing wrong with sentiment. It helps us to appreciate what we have and to remember good times and good people. But what happens when that thing breaks? Or we lose it? Or it dies? We need to take time to understand why we cherish the item, but we need to know that it is just that; an item. The thing to cherish is the memory it invokes.

February 19, 2012

Couples Dancing: The Lost Art

On Thursday of this week, my musical partner and I had our first “gig”. I’m using that term very lightly, but it was a lot of fun and a great experience. We had no idea what to expect at this “Country Jam.” It was at the American Legion in Winneconne, WI. We had prepared 4 country-ish songs and it seemed to be in the open mic type of format.

At about 7pm the house band began playing. The room had about 20 or so people in it and most were in their 70s and 80s. The band was playing old classic country songs. Most of which I was only vaguely familiar with.

But when the house band began playing, something almost extraordinary happened. There were about five couples who started dancing around the whole dance floor. They were dancing in a way that people just don’t do anymore. The men were twirling their women all over the dance floor in a two-step time. It was so beautiful. I couldn’t help but watch; mesmerized.

My mother had come to watch us play and she had a brought a few friends. We had a wonderful time. As these couples were dancing, though, we felt like we had traveled back to a time none of us knew about. My mother is in her mid-40s and her mother would have been in her early 60s. This tradition of learning to dance as a social activity is at least 2 generations removed from us.

Of course we have danced with our significant others over the years, but not like this. We would dance in our couples unmoving aside from rocking side to side. I learned that night that what we learned at high school dances was not really dancing. I learned that real couples dancing is now a lost art. This revelation made me a little sad.

It was enjoyable and amazing to watch these 70 and 80-somethings dance around that floor like they were in their 20s again. It made me realize that I need to hang on to my youth. By that, I don’t mean desperately grasp onto the unrealistic threads of my twenties as I move into my thirties and forties like many women are doing these days. I mean, don’t forget to enjoy life right now. Laugh and relax. If I do those things now, getting older won’t feel like a death sentence. It will feel like an adventure of growth and excitement around each corner.

We did end up performing our songs with the house band playing to back us up. It was so much fun and it felt very natural to be back on stage again. I hope everyone can find their passion like I have. It is amazingly fulfilling and can be so much fun.

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February 10, 2012

Finding God in the Small Stuff

Last night was one of those nights that just makes you feel good and confident in God’s workings in our lives. We started our next series of connection groups at church. We meet at someone’s house once a week in a small group setting and talk about Sunday’s message as it relates to our own lives. I chose to take part in the women’s group during this series of messages and last night was our first gathering. It was simply incredible! We laughed and joked and even cried a little. It was amazing at where God took our conversations. By the end of the discussion it was like we couldn’t be farther from the point of the discussion, yet we were closer to the point than at the beginning.

The questions that started this whirlwind of conversation were; How do we clean out chaff or clutter in our lives that can distract us from where God wants to lead us? and  When we do make an unwise decision, or mess up, how do we let go of that and forgive ourselves so God can make something beautiful from it? We talked about how important it is to see God in everyday life. He is constantly weaving his goodness in and out of our daily lives. He takes our screw-ups and mixes in his goodness and blessings. All of a sudden, something we made a mess of, he makes beautiful. It may not be immediate, but it happens. Even the great things we do, his blessings make them better. The more we are able to see that in our lives and others’, the easier it will be to focus on where God wants us and the less we feel the need to keep trying so hard to be a “perfect” Christian.

So give it a try. Next time you hear a piece of someone’s story, look for God’s blessings in the making. If you see a beautiful sunset, think of God’s hands designing that beauty. Look at the way your dog gets excited when she knows you are taking her for a walk. Look at the cold, blizzardy snow and admire it’s beauty before you grumble about shoveling… or after if you forget :) If you see a friend struggling through a difficult time (or if you going through a difficult time) pray for God’s blessings to shine through. He never abandons us. Eventually, we will appreciate the littlest things as a gift from God. Life is so much more beautiful that way.

On the way home after our connection group, I heard one of my favorite songs by Mumford and Sons “Roll Away Your Stone”. This isn’t a huge surprise, seeing as the CD is in my car right now, but still. I heard the words and thought how well they fit with the day’s theme:

It seems that all my bridges have been burned,
But you say that’s exactly how this grace thing works
It’s not the long walk home that will change this heart,
But the welcome I receive with the restart

Remember God gives us grace minute by minute. We need to implement that practice with ourselves and others — but trust me, I know how hard that can be. Let’s start by finding God in the small stuff.

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