Friday, October 9, 2015

A Healing Journey

Sunset over Tracy Community Church

So here's a little insight into what our last year has been like...

In October of 2014 I was diagnosed with two herniated discs in my lower neck, basically right where my neck meets my shoulders. It was causing an intense amount of pain. I spent the whole month of October on my face on the couch. I began feeling better as November wore on, and was at least able to function mostly normally by Christmas. Funny thing happened during that time though, I ended up having multiple gallbladder attacks -- a sharp pain in my shoulder then spreading throughout my abdomen from the right side. Yeah, no bueno. 

So, I had to have surgery. I had my gallbladder removed in January of this year. It took the full three weeks recovery time for me to even get out of bed. It just seemed like one thing after another. Needless to say I was depressed. I kept thinking, I should write about this. But I had nothing good to say. It's funny how when hard things happen it's so easy to shut down. I spent much of this difficult time wrestling with my emotions, uncontrolled in my eating habits, and definitely not exercising. Then hubby got sick. February, March, and April were spent trying to figure out what was going on and how to get him better. We can't explain exactly what it was except a combo of stress, bad eating habits, a spine out of alignment, and some pulled muscles, which together caused a whole lot of bad symptoms. Then we started to see the light.

Flashback to the beginning of 2014, I heard the Holy Spirit telling me one word: Presence. I felt like He wanted me to seek Him, to press in, to spend time deepening my relationship with Papa God. Now I know why. This has been a difficult road. I'm such a positive person by nature. It was like the life got sucked out of me and I was stuck without breath, and very little hope. But I know The Hope. And whenever I could muster I would seek His presence. Not like the Jesus-I-know-You're-with-me kind of presence, more like the if-I-don't-feel-you-wrapped-around-me-I-Will-Die kind of presence. There was lots of crying. (Which, if you know me, is totally to be expected! LOL) And slowly, but surely, the hope overtook the depression. Hubby and I started exercising some and in May we (I very reluctantly) decided to do an elimination diet to figure out if there were any food sensitivities that might be causing our symptoms. Wow! We started to feel better. The fog was lifting.
Monterey Beach -- What a beautiful day!
Then the leg cramps started. SERIOUSLY?! My calves would seize up and feel almost like a leg cramp, but just before. I
spent my birthday sitting on a bench looking at the beach and crying because all I wanted to do was walk the beach. It didn't seem like too much to ask. Every step reminded me how helpless I was. I walked around on the verge of tears for weeks. I decided to go the doctor. I found out that my Vitamin D was low, but other than that he could not explain the symptoms. Over a couple months I had several appointments for blood tests and results. And over that time my symptoms subsided. I started to notice a pattern of when my calf pain would return. I'm not quite sure but I think there are some preservatives to blame.

Then the final blow (hopefully!) my doctor had asked if we could run a cholesterol panel. It came back pre-diabetic, on the edge of high cholesterol -- my bad cholesterol is way to high, high triglycerides, too much inflammation. WHATTHEHECK! I was angry. 600 pound people on The Biggest Loser are pre-diabetic! I'm nowhere near that. Not fair. Not cool. Not me! Hubby was really worried and asked if we could implement my long put-off Whole 30-like diet. I think I was just mad enough that I was willing. Since the first gallbladder attack in February of 2014 I knew I needed to change my diet. I knew I needed to listen to my body. But the doctor gave me medicine and told me I had to take it. I had Barrett's Esophogus (a disease in which your esophageal tissue begins to mimic stomach tissue because of the corrosion of stomach acid overflowing into the esophagus) and it is pre-cancerous. I felt defeated then. Now I am refusing to lie down and take it.

Hebrews 10:23 says, "Let us hold unswervingly to the faith we profess, for he who promised is faithful." There is no one bigger than my God. There is no disease, no lie, no heartache, no depression, no pain. God has allowed this time in my life for reasons that only He knows right now. My job is not to give in and give up. It's to hang on and dig in to Him who promised that He has a plan for my life, that now matter what comes my way it will be for my good and His glory. I must choose to believe that He is faithful even when I don't see it. He has brought me this far. He will not fail me now. He CANNOT fail me. "For no word from God will ever fail." Luke 1:37

The Loves of my life!

So I will remain steadfast. I will set my face like a flint. I will do what God has called me to do and be who He's made and equipped me to be. I will thank God over and over for a husband who loves me enough to make me take care of my body, and boys who keep me running in circles. 

He is my shield, my very great reward. (Gen 15:1) Nothing else really matters.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

I Know... Crazy, Right!

Pork Carnitas "Tacos" with Sauteed Peppers and Curtido
I started following Ruth Soukup of Living Well Spending Less on Facebook a few months ago because in addition to struggling to keep my eating under control, I may or may not have a spending problem. *sigh* I know, I know. I'm shameless. I have several theories why I'm like this, but I'll save that for my therapist! Anyway, so I saw Ruth's book and website and thought she might have some wisdom I could glean. Well, as you can imagine, when she offered up her program Living Well Spending Zero (LWSZ) at the beginning of September I signed up! Then we started Whole 30... the week before the LWSZ program was supposed to start. Whoops! I didn't put it all together until we were totally committed to the Whole 30. I didn't want to flake out or make yet another excuse to not do it, so I decided since I had already committed to LWSZ I would just jump in and do both! I know... Crazy, right!

The idea of spending ZERO is super intimidating. And since we are on Whole 30 it's not like I can just pull out whatever's been in the back of my freezer for dinner (I'm talking about you Al Pastor from Christmas last year!), or the 20 cans of beans I found in my pantry. Seriously, why do I need so many cans of beans?! Fortunately the LWSZ program accounts for necessary food spending and things you've already committed to. *Phew!* We decided to set a reasonable, not too tight but not too spendy, budget for ourselves, and gave ourselves a very modest Costco budget. And you know what? So far so good. I actually went to Costco and only spent $40!!! Can you believe it?! That NEVER happens! Just the necessities: eggs, broccoli, bananas, almond milk, and napkins. I was so proud. So were my boys. Aren't they the cutest!
I only spent $40 at COSTCO!!

Honestly, I thought this would be much harder than it has been, both challenges really. I mean we had already started eating much cleaner and eliminating a lot from our diets so that helped a lot with the diet, but I had not been cutting back on spending at all. I had been thinking about the challenge and trying to prepare myself mentally, but that's about all the preparation I did. Funny thing, I woke up on October 1st and thought, "I want to go shopping!" So far that's the extent of my withdrawal.

What I've found is that I am an emotional eater/shopper. When I'm stressed or when I don't get enough sleep (thanks little man for keeping me up all last week!), or when I feel uncertain or sad or insecure, I eat. Or I shop. Or I do both. Boo. It's something that kills me on the inside. I know that I should run to Jesus, but I avoid getting intimate and allowing Him to deal with the issue at hand. I want to be better but if I'm honest I find that healing hurts. It's uncomfortable to change.

But I feel like I've been ready for change for a long time. Obviously, since I've been talking about Whole 30 for a year now! Now though, my heart is ready for change. And I think that is what I'm learning here in this first week of LWSZ. I'm ready. I'm ready to move forward. I'm ready to take action. I'm ready to change.

In this first week of our spending freeze we have spent barely more than a third of what we had spent last month by this time. One week and I have already saved almost $650. Wow, that seems like a lot. I told you I have a problem. Last month we had already eaten out three times, I had one Starbucks run, our Costco bill was like "add a zero" to what I spent this month, and there were about 8 shopping trips divided between Home Goods, Michaels, Ross, and Marshalls. Wow! I'm tired just thinking about it. So, yeah. Now it's out there. And I'm glad. It's freeing. And more than that it's empowering to know that I don't have to go running all over town buying up whatever I can find to be happy. (In my defense, I was decorating for Fall, and Hubby had given me a budget to decorate our bedroom. Just sayin'!)

Over the weekend we had to figure out what to do with ourselves other than go out to eat and go shopping. Yeah, it's pretty much tradition. We watched movies with the boys. We went to the park. And we made the most delicious carnitas! I served them with curtido (Salvadorean coleslaw, as I like to call it), and sauteed peppers and onions, in lettuce cups. OMIGOSH! They were so good! I found this recipe on Host the Toast, which I adapted for the ingredients on hand. Delicious and thrifty!

These Lettuce Wrap Carnitas Tacos are kid approved!

Here's my recipe for Braised Pork Carnitas:

1 (4-5 lb) lean boneless Pork Roast, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 3" chunks
1 tbsp Olive Oil
1-2 cups Green Chile Salsa with tomatillos (the kind from Trader Joe's is good!)
1 large White Onion, diced
5 cloves Garlic, minced
1 Chipotle in Adobo, from can, chopped, plus 1 teaspoon sauce
2½ teaspoons Cumin (I just put in a couple palmfuls because it adds so much flavor!)
1½ teaspoons Kosher Salt
1 teaspoon Black Pepper

Season the meat liberally with salt and pepper (and some garlic powder if you've got it!). Add the olive oil to a large skillet over high heat. When the oil is hot add the meat. Let it sear on each side for 2-3 minutes until brown. Cook the meat in batches so you don't overcrowd the pan.

Throw the meat into the slow cooker once it has seared on all sides. On top of the meat add the rest of the ingredients. Cook on low for 6-8 hours. Stir it up after about 3 or 4 hours to make sure all the meat is in the liquid.

After about 6 hours check the meat to see if it is ready. You're looking for tender meat that shreds easily. You'll know if it's ready when it falls apart with just a little tug. Taste for seasoning. It may need more salt and pepper. Turn the broiler in your oven on high and make sure your oven rack is in the top 1/3 of the oven. Shred the meat and put it in a single layer on a sheet tray.

Now here's the magic: pour some of the broth from the slow cooker over the meat and put it in the oven to broil for 5 minutes. Now pour some more broth over and broil for another 3-5 minutes. You want the meat to start to crisp up and brown on the top. I had to do the full extra 5 minutes, and then a little longer with the oven door cracked. Basically you're getting crispy carnitas without having to fry them! I know! Brilliant!!

Once it's browned serve it up on your favorite mode of transportation into your mouth! What's your favorite taco shell?

*P.S. Sorry for all the blog look changes! I'm not crazy, just like to redecorate. ;-D

Monday, October 5, 2015

Whole 30 -- How I'm Making It Work

First off let me just say I am LOVING how I feel on the Whole 30 plan! After the first week, literally on day 8 I could sense the difference. It wasn't until day 10 that I realized I hadn't needed a nap on Monday (!) or Tuesday!! Now, I have two boys, 3 and 5, who take a lot of energy. Usually by their nap/quiet time I am pooped and lay lifelessly on the couch for at least an hour. Days 8 and 9 I exercised! That's how much energy I had!! WHAT!?!

Now, you may be thinking, "Aren't you still doing it, why are you talking about this energy as if it's in the past?" Good question! Just as I was relishing all this extra energy and realizing that I had a whole extra two hours in my day, Number 2, as we call him, decided to start getting up multple times a night for the following FOUR nights!! (Insert tired mother emoji here... why don't they have one of those, btw?!) So, last night was the first night in awhile during which I was not requested multiple times in the bathroom -- for no. good. reason. All that to say, even being awake all night those four nights, I still had plenty of energy most of those days. I wasn't jumping on the treadmill or forgoing my nap, but I was still facing the day with some sort of strange gusto. Today, after I slept most of the night... He got up only once to tinkle and then stayed in bed. I may have *ahem* bribed him *ahem* with the promise of Mickey Mouse shaped pancakes for breakfast. That's good right? You should always use food as motivation for children, right? Anyway, today I feel the most tired, as if my body has tasted of sleep and now wants more. Funny how that works.

Hubby enjoying some compliant hot wings -- his favorite!
The Whole 30 diet is pretty "loosey-goosey" in that you have a set of foods you are allowed to eat however you want. Now I know in their book they have lots of recipes but I'm cheap -- and by cheap I mean I would rather spend money on clothes than on a book! -- and I don't want to spend money on a book that I may or may not use. They have so much information on their website and there are so many recipes and menu plans around the web that I felt I had enough information to do it on my own. I enjoy trying new recipes. I like to meal plan. Not that we always stick to it, but I still do it! I figured this was very doable. And it has been. The hardest part is that I've had to make sure I have 25-30 grams of fiber every day, so I've been using My Fitness Pal to log my food. This is helpful if you have some nutritional requirement to fill. I love eating meat so I have to be very intentional about adding veggies to my plate and including fruit, otherwise I'll have eggs and bacon for breakfast, a lettuce wrap for lunch, and a big piece of meat with a small side of potatoes for dinner. There's veggies in there right?!

So here's what we've been doing:

For breakfast I found a great recipe for Sweet Potato Hash at Nom Nom Paleo, which we'll eat with a couple eggs or Aidell's sausage links. I'll include a Fruit Salad (recipe follows) with mine and cut back to one egg or half a sausage. I've made egg muffins or a frittatta, which are awesome because this covers several breakfasts for the busy weekday mornings. Ocasionally I do smoothies, which is not highly reccomended, but I can get extra fiber in that way.

For lunch we like to have leftovers from dinner. Some days Hubby will have a large green salad with tuna salad or shredded meat on top and oil and vinegar. I like to slice up a half a zucchini and a whole carrot and sautee it with s&p and some Mexican seasoning, then add whatever protein I've got in the fridge. It's so good! This week I made yummy Vegetable Turkey Soup for dinner on Sunday and that will be lunch for the week. Our little guys will eat either what I'm eating or I'll give them gluten free chicken nuggets from Costco or Annie's Mac-n-Cheese.

Dinner is my favorite because it is where I get to experiment. I've found several recipes that will be keepers for sure! I love that these recipes are so flavorful and easy enough. A couple of my favorites are Slow Cooker Roast Chicken from No. 2 Pencil, and Deconstructed Samosa from Nom Nom Paleo. I've also enjoy making new side dishes like Cauliflower Rice (this is a good tutorial, but I'm going to post my own soon), baked Sweet Potato Fries, and Roasted Winter Veggies. Yum!

Look at these adorable and silly little faces! I could just eat them up!!

If I need a snack I'll grab a piece of fruit, or a handful of almonds, or golden raisins.

My absolute saving grace has been Sweet & Spicy tea from Good Earth. OMG it's so good! I love it with a little bit of Unsweetened Vanilla Almond Milk (Silk makes one without carageenan or added sugar). I've also found that it goes well with chai tea. I just use the largest cup setting on my Keurig to get hot water then brew a bag of chai tea and a bag of Sweet & Spicy and add a little almond milk. It's divine! And it has replace my morning Mocha Mix or creamer with a little coffee in it.

Here's how to make my beautiful breakfast fruit salad, which of course you could enjoy any time of day!

My breakfast of choice -- Fruit Salad!
1 cup Strawberries, hulled and chopped
1/2 a Banana, diced
1/4 Apple, diced
1 Tbsp chopped Almonds
a palmful of Shredded Coconut (On Whole 30 you can't have sweetened coconut, but I love Dang coconut chips and they would be amazing on this salad!)

Mix it all up and enjoy!! You could really add whatever fruit you have on hand or that is in season to this yummy dish. This is just the combo I have found really satisfies, and berries have a lot of fiber! Ooh! Blueberries would be delightful in this!!

What do you eat for breakfast?

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Challenge Time - Whole 30

Pumpkin Chicken Curry

Well, it almost took a year but we finally started our very first Whole 30! What an experience!! We are currently on day 13 and I can't even describe the difference I am feeling in my cravings, energy level, and pants-fitting, which of course is the best! First a little background...

The last year has been quite a battle. First herniated discs in my lower neck. Then gallbladder surgery. Then hubby got sick (but is now better thanks to some investigative work and good advice from our Chiropractor!). Then elimination diet. EYE OPENNING! Then intense and inexplicable calf pain that radiated up my legs. Then lots of blood work that led to no solutions, but instead another diagnosis: Pre-diabetic, verge of high cholesterol, Inflammation levels way too high. Doctor's orders: lose weight, exercise, have a nice day. UGH!

Needless to say it's been a roller coaster, the scary intense and not-so-fun kind. It's been almost two years of sickness and battling depression. It seemed almost as though every time I would try to pull out of it I would get a new diagnosis or another new battle to fight. Through it all I have held on to my One Source of Hope, sometimes by a thread, always for dear life. It's hard to not whine, and mope, and feel sorry for myself. Every time I would realize I was doing this I would start thinking I should pray, I should eat better, I should exercise. And then I would NOT. And then guilt would beat me up. But eventually I would get to my knees.

Every diagnosis or new bottle of medicine prescribed would send me back to sadness, hopelessness, and the cycle would begin again. But this last diagnosis... Pre-diabetic? High cholesterol? What the what?? I was pissed. (Pardon my french!) Hubby and I had already started eliminating possible triggers for inflammation and my calf pain, which has remained much of a mystery, but has subsided and is now pretty much gone. So we said goodbye to soy, caramel color (which includes just about every processed food I could love! Oh, and it's super bad for all of us, btw. Did you know it's a carcinogen?), and of course processed sugar.

I tried really hard to stick to it, but then I had an Oreo. And then I had two more. And then I ate a bunch more stuff I shouldn't have for the rest of the week. If I took a step back I would've said, "...but I'm eating way better than before!" And although that might be true, better is not good enough with the symptoms I'm displaying. Have you ever heard of or read about food addiction? Hubby forwarded me this article and basically it described the Oreo reaction. We also watched this great documentary called "Fed Up" on Netflix. Mind blown! So, we decided to finally embark on the Whole 30. (I just reminded myself of those people that say "Long story short" and then tell you the whole story! Haha!)

And here we are. Day 13. It was hard the first week. I've had weird cravings, a couple days of "why do I feel fatter?", and a lot of saying "No, thank you." But today, I slipped into a pair of jeans that have taken up space in my drawer for far too long. I'm pretty sure as soon as I bought them I could no longer fit them! But today, oh yeah today, they fit! I can no longer wear too-tight, muffin top creating, pants because of my tummy issues, so when I say they fit, I mean it! And I couldn't be happier!

Here I am!! Skinny Jeans!!

I'll explain more about the Whole 30 diet and how it works and how we've made it work for us in another post, but I wanted to share a recipe for some delicious Pumpkin Curry Chicken we ate over cauliflower rice. I'll have to dedicate another post entirely to all the delicious ways we've been eating cauliflower. It's so good!

Found this recipe in Parenting magazine and adapted it only slightly. It says serves 4 but I would say more like 2-1/2.

Pumpkin and Chicken Curry

4 tsp Olive Oil, divided
1 lb boneless, skinless Chicken Breast, cut into thin strips
1/2 medium Onion, diced small (I dice onions & peppers small so the boys won't see them!)
1 tsp Ground Ginger
3 Garlic Cloves, minced
1 cup Coconut Milk (the kind in the can)
1 cup canned Pumpkin Puree
2 Tbsp curry powder
1/2 tsp salt
Dash of Cayenne Pepper
3 cups packed Baby Spinach (we don't usually like cooked spinach but it practically disappears here!)
2 tsp fresh lime juice (I didn't have any but I think it would've rocked this dish!)

2 cups Cauliflower rice

Heat 2 tsp oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken in batches and cook until just done, 3-4 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside.

Reduce heat to medium. Add remaining 2 tsp oil to the skillet with the onion. When the onion appears translucent, about 5 minutes, add the garlic, ginger, and curry powder and cook till fragrant, about 1 minute.

Stir in the coconut milk, pumpkin puree, 1/2 cup water, salt, and cayenne. Simmer, uncovered, over medium-low for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add chicken back to the pan with the spinach and continue cooking until the greens have wilted. Stir in the lime juice and serve!

Hope you enjoy! Let me know how it turns out for you!!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Getting Started

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Heaven

Well, I had a really great plan in place today. I was going to start my new "regimen" of menu planning / eating. I started the day with a smoothie, my favorite Blueberry Peanut Butter Smoothie. I added a heaping scoop of Metamucil to that today because I'm on a slew of meds to help control the pain and swelling in my arm. I was told it was arthritis, but my physical therapist believes it is a herniated disc. Either way, things are rather slow going in the bathroom, hence the Metamucil! Sorry, TMI. ;-) I added a piece of Trader Joe's Daily Bread toast with a little butter.

For lunch I was planning on making this salad, which I believe I can get my boys to eat with me. But...we ended up at Taco Bell... What to eat? What to eat? I ended up with a Chicken Cantina Bowl. It's like something you might get at Chipotle but not quite as delicious, and oddly enough, with fewer calories. The total calorie count for the meal is 490 (as posted on the menu). I usually would ask for no sour cream and guac on the side, but of course I forgot. So I ate about 2/3 of the salad. It has grilled chicken, romaine, black beans, white rice, guacamole, sour cream, and pico de gallo. Not bad, but minus the rice and the sour cream I could've saved myself a lot of calories!

Then I woke up from my little afternoon nap, (I was up since 1 a.m. because somehow the Valium I've been prescribed as a muscle relaxer is giving me insomnia!!!) and I had two peanut butter chocolate chip cookies, which are deeeevine! And a mug of warm apple cider. Not exactly on the meal plan for a healthy day. Whoops!

Soooo good!
So, here's the recipe for these beauties! I love this recipe because it's easy and everything just goes right into the mixer. There's so much less mess! I substitute chocolate chips for the peanut butter chips, but you could use butterscotch or white chocolate, or whatever suits your fancy. When I'm really feeling indulgent I'll chop up a cup of dark chocolate and toss that in instead of the chips. It creates gooey chocolate strips throughout the cookies and they taste like peanut butter cups, but better. Yeah, it's possible. You should definitely try that.

For dinner I have a lovely crock pot full of turkey chili. Just bell pepper, onions, garlic, ground turkey, chicken stock, and white beans, and of course, lots of chili seasoning. YUM! My house smells so good! Hopefully tomorrow will be healthier!

Here's to peanut butter cookie heaven!

Look it up!