Friday, October 23, 2015

Living Well Spending Zero Week 3 Recap

Christmas basket for our PRC silent auction

We are a full three weeks into our spending freeze and I can tell you I feel great! I thought I would have withdrawals, like I did from sugar and grains when we started Whole 30. But it turns out I'm not as addicted to shopping as I thought! Apparently, if I'm not out and about, in stores, and out at lunch time, it's actually not that hard not to spend. Go figure! The LWSZ challenges -- deep cleaning the house, organizing, getting creative, and pampering myself -- have kept me busy and happy. I will say, I have gone over my food budget a little bit, but hey I'm a work in progress! And I have had some shopping therapy. Not what you're thinking though... I'm not cheating! I've just had the privilege to shop with someone else's money. Woo hoo!!

Our local Pregnancy Resource Center has a banquet and silent auction every year.  I have the exciting job of putting together baskets from our church's Bible study groups, which requires... SHOPPING! I actually got it all done in one afternoon with the help of my mom. It was super fun! I'm able to do 7 baskets this year with the funds we raised, which is awesome! I love our Pregnancy Resource Center. They help so many women in our little city, it's kind of amazing!

I must say, I usually pick up a few things for myself along the way, but this year I kept my focus and didn't buy myself a single thing! Can you feel how proud I am!?!

Sorry, I just couldn't help it!
I think the biggest thing I'm seeing is how little I need to buy to enjoy what I've got. When I take care of what I have it reminds me to be grateful for having it. That even goes for my kiddos! When I sit and play with them or read to them, I remember what a blessing they are. God's really been speaking to me about contentment and thanksgiving throughout this month. "pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus." (I Thessalonians 5:17-18) "But godliness with contentment is great gain." (I Timothy 6:6)

I feel like I vacillate between wanting everything I see and wanting to be frugal and not buy anything. It's the same with food: I want to be healthy but I also want to eat whatever I want. It's like I'm split... I guess that makes sense, "For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want." (Galatians 5:17)

My whole life I've believed, or maybe I was taught, that I am my flesh and I have to try to live by the Spirit. My spirit is not who I really am, but who I want to be. Living by the Spirit is hard because I am flesh. But if I look at this verse a little more closely it says "so that you are not to do whatever you want." That's the NIV, but the NLT says it this way, "so you are not free to carry out your good intentions." So, maybe, I'm my spirit man, the one who desires to live by the Holy Spirit. Maybe I'm the good guy, and the flesh is the influence of the world and the lies of the enemy, trying to entice me to be who I don't want to be. And maybe, just maybe, if I dig really deep, and decide to be me... Maybe the real me, my spirit man, is frugal, content, happy with who God made me, not in need of any kind of food/shopping/social-therapy. 

Maybe I'm just in need of some Jesus-therapy, the kind of therapy that actually works, so that I can be who I was made to be -- who I really am.

You guys, I've saved over $1800 in the last three weeks compared to last month...and the month before. EIGHTEEN HUNDRED DOLLARS! (Insert woman cutting credit card emoji here.) Now to be fair, some of that money the previous months was budgeted money that we had planned on spending, and some was donations for the church renovation. But the majority of the money I've saved comes from a category I call "miscellaneous". Purchases that, when I see them on the credit card bill, I cannot remember what they were. Places like Target, Walmart, Ross, Marshalls, Michael's, Dollar Tree, etc. And then there's the way-too-much-to-admit we spend on eating out. And I feel like I cook A LOT. So, yeah, learning a big lesson here. Want to know what it is?

I'm not that person. It's not who God made me to be. I have this desire to be content with what I have and to steward my resources well because that is who God made me. 

It may take some time and effort, but I will retrain my brain and my credit-card-swiping hand to think, evaluate, and process before I make a purchase. I'll plan better. I'll pray about this more. I think that may be the most helpful!

I read a blog about creating a capsule wardrobe, and she said she gives herself a week to think about a clothing purchase before she decides if it belongs in her closet. A week. If I did that I think I'd forget about most of the clothes I've purchased!

So, baby steps. I'm starting with a plan for next month, a new Living Well Spending Less program called Your Best Year Ever (you can sign up here), and a goal to de-clutter my life. I won a book from the LWSZ Instagram challenge about a clutter free life and I am all set to dive right in.

I can't wait to see what God has in store for the next few months!

And, a quick update on our Whole 30: we are FINISHED! We ended our Whole 30 on Tuesday. Wednesday we added refried beans to our meals, and can I tell you they were heavenly! Believe it or not, that's what I've missed most. LOL. I officially lost 10 pounds and two inches off my waist!! My energy is up (now that we're sleeping through the night again!!! WOO HOO!!), and I'm feeling great! We're planning on keeping the general Whole 30 rules in place in our home going forward. I still have another 10 pounds to lose according to my health assessment to get my risks all the way down for diabetes, blood pressure, cholesterol, etc. So that's the goal. We'll see how it goes!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Almost There!

Whole30 Compliant Grilled Hot Wings
Today is Day 29 (!!!) of our Whole 30! Can't believe it's almost over. It really has flown by. I must admit I did have a little bit of honey or maple syrup in my tea here and there, but other than that I haven't cheated! (I know hardcore Whole 30-ers will consider that cheating, but a girl can only do so much!) I can't believe it myself. My formerly "skinny" jeans -- the ones I wear when I'm skinny -- are now saggy in the bum and have almost turned into my fat pants! Thrilling!

Overall I've felt pretty good for the majority of the program. If it hadn't been for my little man getting up multiple times a night almost every night for three out of the four weeks I think my energy would have continued to be through the roof. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to see a drastic improvement in my sleep because of this too. Oh well, though! I don't think I could have survived the multiple night wakings without being on Whole 30 and having extra energy.

On Saturday, we had a great visit with some friends who we don't get to see very often and we were able to share our Grilled Hot Wings with them. Our friend Joel shared this recipe with us after we had them at his house. We loved them, so like a good friend, he passed it on! They're so good, messy, and delicious! Visiting with non-Whole 30-ers is a little bit difficult, but our friends were so accommodating. We brought the wings, and the sides were roasted broccoli, sweet potato fries, and dessert was strawberries and grapes. Easy and delish!

So, without further ado, Grilled Hot Wings, Whole 30 friendly and absolutely yummy!

The easiest and yummiest Grilled Hot Wings

Grilled Hot Wings


Chicken Wings
Frank's RedHot Original (Hot Sauce)
Ghee, or butter if you're not on Whole 30
Salt, Pepper, and Garlic Powder


Season the chicken with a little bit of salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Cover the wings with sauce, not a lot, just enough to coat. Marinate the chicken wings (if you have time). Preheat the grill on high. When it's nice and hot, reduce heat to low and cook those babies up! Meanwhile, heat a couple tablespoons of ghee with about a cup or so of the hot sauce. When the wings are cooked through -- they take about 25 minutes -- remove them from the grill and toss them with the buttery saucy goodness!

Now eat them up!! We served them with roasted broccoli and sweet potato fries. YUM! What do you like to eat your wings with? And don't say blue cheese!

Friday, October 16, 2015

Seeking His Presence

My momma praying with my baby
You know those times when it just seems so hard to pray? When you find every excuse, and every little thing to occupy your mind so you don't go there? Or when you just don't do it because you're too tired, too emotionally drained, too scared that you may come unglued if you go there? Yeah. Me too. Over the last year-and-a-half there have been so many times that I knew I needed to get to my knees. I knew God was calling me deeper into Himself. I knew I needed to be in His presence. But I just didn't go. I didn't cry out. I didn't make the time, or if I had the time I didn't take it. I slept. I shopped. I ate. I watched TV.

When life is chaos or it just plain hurts, it takes everything inside me to hold it together. I know in my mind that God's the only One who can fix it. I know in my heart that I need Him more desperately than anything else in all the world. But I'm afraid if I go there, if I pour out my heart, I may not get up. I might just finally break. That's one of the lies I've had to break free from, that I'm on the edge of breaking, that just one more thing will do me in. In my mind's eye, I remember this scene from a movie, I don't even know which one, where the mother is having a total mental breakdown on the front lawn. The father is trying to get her up off the ground and the grandmother is ushering the children inside. The lie is that was going to be me. Just one. more. thing.

I went up for prayer at one of our women's events last year sometime, and the pastor's wife who prayed with me looked at me and said, "That's a lie. You will not break. God's got you." It was like a breath of fresh air and a reminder that I needed to get out of my head and onto my knees. He always tells me the truth.

Some days it's been all I can do to just lay on the ground and cry. "But the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans." (Romans 8:26) 

It's so easy to come up with some sort of idea of what prayer or spending time with God should look like. We see others, or at least what they portray, and think that's what it looks like. We hear stories of people who read their Bible for hours or who pray every morning at 2 and think that's what it looks like. But it's so much more than any of that. A long time ago, I promised myself that I wouldn't compare my relationship with my husband to anybody else's marriage. It helps me focus on him and how he loves me, and I'm better able to appreciate what I have. I think the same must be true of our individual relationships with the Lord. My quiet time will not look like anyone else's. It can't. God speaks to each of us in so many different ways. He knows exactly how to love me based on my needs and my personality. And He knows that some days all I can do is cry. And He lets me. Because that's how He is. 

When I need that arms-wrapped-around-me feeling it usually takes me a couple days (ok, sometimes weeks) to finally give in and get with my Jesus. But then I wait, I pray, I cry, I seek. And He knows just how to show me what I need. It's not always a physical tangible feeling. And it may not be, actually usually is not, what I expect. Sometimes it's peace. Sometimes it's calm. Sometimes it's rest. Sometimes it's a hug from a wonderful little boy who prayed for me yesterday, "Dear Lord, help my Mommy to be a good mommy, and take care of us."After they both had anointed me with oil as my mom and I had done to them. "Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him." (Psalm 127:3)

At all times, He knows exactly what I need and how I need it. I have to constantly remember to run to Him instead of from Him. Even when it hurts. Even when it's hard. Even when I don't want to.

Come out from despair
Grab on to Life
The blood Jesus shed
Is your freedom and mine

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Living Well Spending Zero Week 2 Reflections

Oh how I hate filing paperwork!
Well, I blew it! Waaa! I spent un-budgeted money. I won't even tell you what I spent it on because it's not a big deal. And if I did tell you'd probably be like, "Oh, you needed that. No biggie." And I'm not into excuses. I didn't spend a lot, but I really wanted to stick to the goal. Boo.

On the bright side today went much better. I had budgeted 20 bucks for our "field trip" to the pumpkin patch and I only spent $17! Woo hoo! I think not beating yourself up when you mess up is one of the hardest things. But I've learned that the less I sulk the more quickly I get back to being awesome! ;-D And today I was awesome! Seriously, have you noticed how quickly a little outing can turn into Starbucks + all the attractions + lunch + possibly another Starbucks? Yeah, me too. Lame. That's where I've noticed the biggest change in my spending. I'm not out running errands all the time at lunchtime, and when I know I'm going to be out late I pack snacks.

At the end of each week of the LWSZ challenge we have a "Reflection" assignment, so here's my thoughts... There was A LOT of cleaning this week! I still have a pile of papers to sort and file. This lovely picture of my laundry basket full of just papers that need to be filed is one of two. Blah. But my living spaces, my kitchen, my bathrooms are BEAUTIFUL! Oh and did I mention how my master bedroom is coming together? Well, it is and it's so great and calming to walk in and not have a pile of, well, anything staring at me! I'm loving having a clean home. I am hoping to implement a cleaning schedule going forward to maintain all this loveliness. There's just something about having a clean space to live in. Ruth Soukup, the author of the challenge, says when you have a clean house it's like you have a clean brain. And I agree!

My beautiful work-in-progress bedroom
The best part of the challenge thus far is that compared to last month we've already saved over $1400!! Mind. Blown. I can't believe it! I've been going over our expenses the last two months with a fine tooth comb and I'm in awe. I realized how a little bit here and a little bit there adds up to so much. The things we think are inconsequential really never are. What I find most interesting is how our finances and our eating were spiraling out of control almost at the same time and the same rate. Eating out is a huge contributor to both of those things.

Many times we'll eat out simply because I didn't have a plan. I've noticed big time how I hate to plan lunch every day. I even forgot to plan it for the weekend so we were scrambling because I didn't have any leftovers and we'd been cleaning all morning. Whoops! This was a weekend when we would have very likely eaten out lunch and dinner. I'm learning that I need a plan if I'm going to be successful in saving money and eating healthy. It's a good thing, just not always an easy thing. I've also found that as I've been intentional about cleaning up the kitchen after every meal it's so much more mess it up again! It's good though because I'm not having to wash every pan right before I use it again. Super helpful!

My little man standing tall!
My biggest "reflection" though is how I pour myself into these things, challenges, goals, and ideals that I want to attain. I forget about the other things as I hone in on one thing. Like last week when I should have been prepping the Christmas music for our first choir Christmas rehearsal and I used the challenges to procrastinate. I ended up with an over full and very stressful Sunday as I scrambled to throw it all together. And then there's my boys. Number 2 is still getting up at least once a night. I think it's a combination of waking up for some unknown reason mixed with testing his boundaries. But I read an article today about how much our little ones need us, and I thought maybe he just wants to be with me. It made me sad because as I looked back over these last three weeks (since I started Whole 30) I realized that I haven't been taking as much time for my little guys as I could, or maybe even should. I want to pour myself into them and do the other stuff if it fits. They need me. And I love that about them.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Turkey Chili with Beans

Before and After of my now clean Kitchen!
What a great weekend! I accomplished so much this weekend thanks to the Living Well Spending Zero challenge I'm participating in. I can't even tell you how nice it is to have my kitchen, bathrooms, and living spaces spic and span! Not to mention clean and organized kids' rooms. Phew!! Hubby and I even had energy to wash both our cars and finish putting up some decor in our bedroom. Since starting Whole 30 I seriously feel like we are different people. We've spent a lot of time in the past sitting on the couch, tired and spent just from the week's activities. Since we're almost through our Whole 30 we are feeling the "Tiger Blood" as they call it -- this energy that is awesome!! If you haven't considered a Whole 30, I highly recommend it! It's not easy, but the longer it goes, the better I feel.

Grilled Salmon with Baked Sweet Potato & Sauteed Cauliflower

People always get hung up on, "But what will I eat?" Well let me tell you we had some yummy meals over the weekend! Chili Stuffed Hot Dogs, Tuna Salad Lettuce Cups, Grilled Salmon (I promise it practically tastes like steak!) with Baked Sweet Potatoes & Sauteed Cauliflower, Grilled Shrimp Skewers with Roasted Green Beans... Oh yum! We are not missing out here folks! Ok, if I'm being honest, I would have loved a piece of the Pumpkin Pie my boys ate with my parents on Friday night after their dinner out. I am really sad that it's pumpkin season and I can't have pumpkin pie!! But, other than that, not missing out one bit!!

So clean! My li'l guys have already made a mess of it!!
But enough about that, on to my chili recipe... I love chili. If you've looked over my recipes here you know I already have Slow Cooker Turkey Chili, and I love that one too. But here's the deal, GERD is no joke, and if I eat all those tomatoes I might die.  Ok, I probably won't die, but I will definitely be up all night choking back Tums and having to sleep sitting up. No fun.

So, as you can imagine when I saw on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives someone making white bean turkey chili I frantically took notes! Then I made my own version, which my family loves. We eat it all the time, and my boys have even gotten over the peppers. I'm telling you they drink it out of their bowls! I had never thought to omit the tomatoes. I figured they add some sort of yumminess that I wouldn't be able to replicate. But I was wrong! Woo Hoo!!

I love making this chili on Sunday or Monday night and then eating it for lunch all week. But, since we're on Whole 30 (day 22!!! Almost done!!) I've had to omit beans too! Boo. I did find this recipe, which is pretty good but needed a little extra seasoning and only almost hit the spot. Fortunately for you I have a friend who needs some meals this week and I decided to make for her my yummy Turkey Chili with Beans, and share the recipe with you. Aren't you lucky! Traditionally I make it with small white beans, but today I used the beans I had on hand, and it still turned out delicious!

Turkey Chili with Beans

Turkey Chili with Beans


Olive Oil
1 each Red & Green Bell Pepper, diced
1 medium Yellow Onion, diced
3 Cloves Garlic, minced
1 lb. Ground Turkey
1 quart Chicken Stock
2 cans Beans, drained and rinsed (white, pinto, or black all work well)
1 Tbsp Chili Powder
2 tsp ground Cumin
1 tsp dried leaf Oregano
1 Tbsp Seasoned Salt
1 tsp instant Minced Onion
1 tsp Garlic Powder (NOT garlic salt!)

Salt & Pepper to taste


In a large pot over medium heat add Olive Oil just to coat the bottom of the pan, about 2 Tbsp. Add the Onion and the Bell Peppers and cook until translucent. Add the Turkey and the minced Garlic, season with Salt and Pepper, and cook till no longer pink. Once the meat is cooked through add a some extra Cumin and Chili Powder, and stir it around to bloom the spices.

Now add the Chicken Stock and the Beans, as well as the measured seasonings. I almost always add extra Garlic Powder, but that's up to you. Bring to a boil, then let simmer for 20-30 minutes, just to bring the flavors together. Taste and season with Salt and Pepper.

Serve it up and enjoy!!

I've found a new way to enjoy chili: on top of a split (Whole 30 compliant) HOT DOG! Who would've thunk!!

How do you like your Chili??

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!!

Look it up!